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Monday, January 20, 2003
Updated: February 28, 4:16 PM ET
The weekend the gods winced

By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Okay, so it's two pirate-themed teams in the Super Bowl. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! TMQ plans to have a parrot sitting on his shoulder all week.

And okay, so the Super Bowl pits two pirate-themed teams that could not run the ball off the plank, let alone against a defense. TMQ sees this in dialectic terms. The NFL's pass-wacky current fashion had to bottom out with a Super Bowl pitting two teams that don't even try to run. The football gods, upon their hallowed couch above, will refuse to watch this game. From all-passing, the antithesis of football, a new synthesis will emerge in which teams try to balance passing and running. I understand that's a radical idea.

These things aside, let's cut to what really matters -- the Super Bowl is the only NFL game each year with two sets of cheerleaders.

Traditionally, NFL teams don't bring cheerleader squads to away games. The Super Bowl, played at a neutral site, is the exception, with both teams in most cases flying in their pep units. So a double-mega-babe event is coming, with sun-drenched San Diego the venue. And the Raiders' and Bucs' cheer squads are both high-aesthetic-appeal.

The great uncovered-by-the-national-media story of last year's indoor Super Bowl was how little was worn by the Rams and Patriots cheerleaders. Rams cheer-babes sported two-piece outfits that were essentially glittering bikinis. Patriots cheer-babes countered with two-piece numbers whose bottoms were barely more than flaps over thongs. Astonishingly Fox, which had last year's Super Bowl coverage, gave viewers naught but a passing glimpse of the cheer-babes. All ticket holders near the field were torn about whether to watch the babes or the game.

Eagerly awaiting Sunday at VI:XVIII Eastern, TMQ calls on the Raiders and Bucs cheer-babes to surpass last year's mark by wearing even less than the Rams and Patriots cheerleaders! Also, TMQ calls on ABC, which has this year's game, to wise up and show viewers the cheerleaders, rather than excruciating close-up after excruciating close-up of the neck veins bulging on Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden.

Bucs Cheerleaders
Ladies and gentlemen -- TMQ's pregame MVP selection.
Surely Oakland's win of the AFC title was foreordained by the mega-babe professionalism shown by the Raiderettes, who came out in two-piece numbers with hot pants despite a kickoff temperature of 52 degrees. Conversely, doom for Philadelphia was foreordained when the high-aesthetic-appeal Eagles cheerleaders wore bulky down vests rather than the sprayed-on unitards they have previously sported in cold-weather games.

Yes, it was 26 degrees at kickoff at Can't Demolish It Too Soon Field. But Gruden and Andy Reid, taking note of TMQ's immutable law of the sidelines -- Cold Coach = Victory -- both wore varsity jackets and light headgear. This activated TMQ's immutable corollary, If Coaches Equal, Cheerleader Professionalism Determines Outcome. "Professionalism" in this sense means skin or at least skin-tight, and the Eagles cheer-babes, like the Eagles themselves, ruined a great season with a final-game letdown. As soon as TMQ saw the Eagles' cheerleaders heavily dressed for pregame warm-ups, he said, "This game's over. Bucs win."

In other football news, both the NFL's championship contests pitted a black quarterback against a white quarterback. The white guys won, though mainly owing to superior teammates in each case. What struck TMQ was that no one really noticed, or cared, about the racial angle. The whole can-blacks-be-quarterbacks thing is so over.

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 1, Bucs at Eagles: Two straight years the Eagles have come into the NFC championship game with a homogenized vanilla game plan. Two straight losses. Both times, zero reaction from Andy Reid on the sideline. On defense, Philadelphia not only rarely blitzed -- though the Eagles have a blitzing personality and do it better than any NFL club -- but played a cautious, backed-off coverage scheme as if they were facing the greatest offense of all time. They were, instead, facing the low-low voltage Bucs, whom Eagles coaches seemed determined to make look like the greatest offense of all time.

The Eagles rarely even showed blitz by bringing linebackers or safeties to the line; it was always easy for the Tampa linemen to tell who was rushing, and always easy for Brad Johnson to read the coverage. The Eagles didn't jam receivers to disrupt their routes. Philadelphia rushers failed to sack Brad Johnson, allowing themselves to be neutralized by Tampa's below-average offensive line. In their earlier meeting this season, the Bucs had tried long passes, which allowed the rush to sack Johnson five times. On Sunday the Tampa game plan was quick throws off three-step actions. Philadelphia coaches never adjusted, still calling defenses well into the second half that assumed the Bucs were deep passing.

Andy Reid
Yes, Andy. You will have to give back the coach of the year award.
Because the Eagles seemed to be re-playing the earlier meeting and ignoring what the Bucs were actually doing, on most passing downs the defensive backs retreated as if facing incredible speed merchants, when Tampa has among the slowest receiving corps in the league. TMQ was simply stunned by Philadelphia's defensive meekness on the game's central play. Score tied at 10 with 2:31 remaining in the half, City of Tampa faced third and goal on the Eagles' nine, going into the wind. Not only did Philly show mincing backed-off coverage, Al Harris, guarding Keyshawn Johnson, lined up in the end zone. Johnson took a quick slant in front of Harris for six; Harris didn't even step toward Johnson till he was crossing the goal line. Ye gods.

On offense it was more vanilla, not even the occasional strawberry to say nothing of Baskin Robbins flavors. The Eagles ran the same six or so plays over and over. There was no formation variety, nothing Eagles opponents have not seen repeatedly, not even the reverse Philadelphia has run to good effect this year. Donovan McNabb didn't throw down the field until desperation time -- the Eagles' first pass attempt over 20 yards, a 24-yard completion to Todd Pinkston, came with 6:31 remaining. You've got to throw deep now and then even if incomplete, to keep the defense honest. And the Philadelphia offensive line, despite two Pro Bowlers (Tra Thomas and Jermane Mayberry) and two others with big contracts (Jon Runyan and Hank Fraley), played one of the worst blocking games TMQ has ever winced through; see more below. On consecutive Philadelphia possessions, McNabb lost fumbles after Pro Bowl left tackle Thomas barely so much as brushed his man, who blew in for the tomahawk move. The lightly regarded Bucs OL outplayed the hyped Eagles OL by a huge margin.

Through it all, Reid showed no emotion, seeming to expect to lose. Reid called the same mincing weak-side screen four times, though it never yielded a first down. He didn't switch to A.J. Feeley when McNabb was ineffective, and paid the price on McNabb's season-killer interception with 3:27 remaining. (McNabb was playing hurt, and it showed; he also seemed emotionally out of it, perhaps reflecting his coach.) When the Eagles jumped to 7-3 lead and then intercepted Tampa on its second possession, setting up a golden opportunity on the Bucs' 46, Reid was incredibly tentative, calling dives and short passes and then punting from the Tampa 32. Yes they were facing the wind, but the Eagles have the league's best placekicker!

When Pinkston pulled up at the Tampa 45 and simply watched Ronde Barber run the rest of the way for the touchdown that iced the Super Bowl for the Bucs -- sure, Barber was ahead of Pinkston but maybe Barber will slip, maybe he'll bobble the ball, this is a championship game! -- TMQ was at first furious at this display of no-heart quitting on Pinkston's part. But then I thought: The Eagles' coaching staff has quit on the game, so why shouldn't the players? Reid seemed to assume that since the Bucs always collapse in Philly, they would collapse again and no particular planning or heart would be required. Rarely has a coach, or an entire coaching staff, wilted worse in a big game.

Donovan McNabb
It's going to take more than Chunky soup, Donovan.
For his part, Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden looked like a guy worth trading two first-round draft choices to acquire. He had the Bucs' linemen with bare arms -- bare-armed linemen are the classic sign of a team unafraid to play in cold. He had Martin Gramatica out of that ridiculous balaclava he used to wear whenever it was below 40 degrees, and taking the temperature like a manly man. He had Johnson in gloves which, it turned out, he'd been making Johnson wear once a week since training camp in anticipation of a northern January outing. (Why the Fox announcers denounced Johnson's gloves was beyond TMQ; quarterbacks ought to wear gloves on freezing days, so long as they are accustomed to them.) Most important, he had a game plan.

Gruden correctly guessed that the Eagles would expect a reprise of the long-passing plays that failed for Tampa in the clubs' earlier meetings, and instead called quick three-step plays. His offensive staff designed new stuff, which worked; see below. And when he had a fourth-quarter lead and the official timekeeper had become his opponent, Gruden went boring, as the smart coach does in this situation. Leading by 10 and getting the ball at his own 34 with 11 minutes remaining, Gruden called four runs, a shovel pass and a flat pass -- both passes completed inbounds -- to keep the clock grinding. He punted back to the Eagles with 6:31 left, the burning of these five minutes, via boring calls, placing the game almost out of reach.

Cheerleader of the Week: As we warm up for San Diego -- next week's column will surely find a flimsy excuses for Chargers' cheer-babes photos -- the TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Beth of the Vikings, who makes the cut because she is a cheerleader with a master's degree ... in sports management, but we'll take it. In addition to abs that bullets would bounce off, Beth has, according to her team bio, 16 years of dance experience and her goal is "to have a successful career and family." So your family has to be successful too! Beth, you've got your work cut out for you.

Beth
Beth's abs could even stop Randy's SUV.
The auditions section of the Minnesota cheerleaders' site explains that not only must a woman pass three levels of tryouts, there is also an interview requirement on current events and other topics: "Interviews are closed to the public and will be before a panel of judges." Let's hope not before French skating judges! TMQ would be happy to serve as a cheerleader judge and would accept bribes, but only in the form of -- well, never mind. The auditions page also cautions, "It can be cold in the fieldhouse, but as you warm up, you will be asked to discard clothing." Cheer-babes being asked to discard clothing: how can this not be on pay-per-view?

Sweet Play No. 1: Trailing 7-3 in the first, Tampa faced second-and-2 on its 24. The Bucs came out in a three-bunch right. This is a formation they had previously shown only in the red zone, and previously from this formation they had sent two men to the left and then hit Joe Jurevicius right on a version of the zee-out (Zed-out to Canadian readers) that receivers call "crack the whip." Check the December 10 TMQ for more detail on how Tampa ran this play against Atlanta. Seeing the set, the Eagles expected the play to proceed as it had on film of the Falcons' game. But this time two men went to the right and Jurevicius went over the middle left, where he ended being guarded by Barry Gardner, the middle linebacker. His 71-yard catch-and-run set up the touchdown that put Tampa ahead for good. Eagles defensive backs seemed to have no idea where the ball was even after Jurevicius was halfway to the goal line.

Sweet Play No. 2: Leading by seven late in the third, Tampa faced third-and-4 on the Philly 34. The Bucs put a two-bunch right. Jurevicius ran the over-the-middle again, this time drawing a cast of thousands to cover him; Keyshawn Johnson ran a fly; tight end Ken Dilger paused, then sprinted into the right flat, where no Eagle was to be seen. His 20-yard reception set up a field goal and panic time at Can't Demolish It Too Soon Field.

Sour Play No. 1: One TMQ hobby horse is offensive linemen sprinting downfield on screen passes, as if they themselves were running for touchdowns, rather than pasting the first defender they see. Trailing by three at the start of the second, the Eagles faced third-and-10 on their 26, and called the weakside screen. When back Bryant Westbrook took the ball with OLs Fraley and John Welbourn ahead of him, and Derrick Brooks the sole defender in sight, TMQ said aloud, "This one's going to midfield." Instead neither Fraley or Welbourn laid a hand on Brooks, charging downfield as if they themselves were running for touchdowns while Brooks nailed Westbrook just shy of the stick and the Eagles punted.

Sour Play No. 2: Later, trailing by seven in the third, Philly faced second-and-10 and called the same screen. Once more Fraley and Welbourn were ahead of the runner, Duce Staley, once more only one defender in sight. Once more neither lineman laid a hand on the defender, this time Dexter Jackson, so intent were they on charging downfield as if they themselves were running for touchdowns. Jackson stopped what looked like it should have been a big play for a one-yard gain; Philadelphia ended up losing a fumble on the series.

Rich Gannon
We don't need no stinkin' running game.
Stat of the Week: The winners of the championship games combined for 545 yards passing and 138 yards rushing. The football gods winced.

Stat of the Week No. 2: The Buccaneers, who won the NFC championship despite rushing for only 49 yards, are only the third of the last 28 Super Bowl teams to average less than 100 yards rushing per game during the season. The football gods winced.

Stat of the Week No. 3: The Raiders won the AFC championship despite calling 49 passes and nine rushes. The football gods winced.

Stat of the Week No. 4: Philadelphia, second-highest scoring team in the league during the regular season, recorded three offensive touchdowns in its final three games, two of them played at home.

Stat of the Week No. 5: Tennessee lost two fumbles in 39 seconds.

Stat of the Week No. 6: Tennessee and Oakland combined to complete their first 15 passes.

Stat of the Week No. 7: In two trips to Oakland this season, the Flaming Thumbtacks surrendered 93 points and turned the ball over six times.

TMQ's Candidate Was P.T. Barnum, Who Could Establish a Rapport With the Clowns in the Cincinnati Front Office: Marvin Lewis accepted the job of head coach of the Bengals. "My other offer was Defense Minister for Iraq," Lewis told a news conference.

Next You're Going to Tell Me San Francisco Would Waive Jerry Rice: Steve Mariucci was fired after going 57-39 as head coach of the Niners. "He failed to win five Super Bowls," explained San Francisco "owner's representative" John York. "Also he never won the Nobel Prize for physics, United States relations with Mauritania are a complete mess and as perhaps you know, cancer still has not been cured." Separately, Tuesday Morning Quarterback demanded that ESPN give him the additional title of Vice President of Column Operations.

Jerry Rice
This guy has more miles on him than a '69 Beetle.
Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 2, Titans at Raiders: In December, Miami demonstrated how to stop the Raiders' league-leading offense. The Marine Mammals played Oakland receivers very tight -- "watch his waist" coverage, as an earlier TMQ explained -- disrupting the endless crossing routes the Raiders run, while allowing the rush time to get Rich Gannon's jersey dirty. Tight coverage engages the risk of giving up the big play, but as used by Miami, proved the only scheme this year that has thrown Oakland off its game. So TMQ expected the Flaming Thumbtacks, who have a defense-minded coach in Jeff Fisher, and the personnel to play tight coverage, to try this approach. Instead the Titans hung back in timid zones, exactly what the Oakland offense is designed to attack. Tennessee surrendered no big plays. But the Oakland offense doesn't seek big plays; what it seeks are first downs and points. Tennessee surrendered 25 of the former and 41 of the latter.

TMQ has always liked Fisher, who keeps his head in the game -- he never blew his stack at the zebras despite losing three of three borderline reviews on Sunday, for example. And TMQ has always liked the Titans. Moreover, TMQ assumes the football gods like the Titans. After all, they endured a period of wandering, and gods are supposed to reward that sort of thing.

But Fisher had nothing special planned for the AFC championship. The Raiders ran their offense exactly as they like to, aided by their fine-blocking, Nimitz-class linemen. (Oakland guard Frank Middleton cannot be only 330 pounds, as his fact sheet claims; his butt wouldn't fit in two airline seats, let alone one.) The Titans were psychologically prepared, handling the initial Oakland surge and crowd noise at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum, and seemed poised for an upset with a 17-14 lead and the ball with two minutes left in the half.

But then Robert Holcomb fumbled when trying to run up the middle against an eight-man Raiders front -- where was the audible out of that call? -- and Tennessee fumbled the kickoff after the Raiders' scored. No team can withstand giving up 10 points on turnovers in the final two minutes of the first half in a road playoff game.

Bill Callahan looked like a bearded veteran rather than a rookie head coach and a guy most sports nuts had never heard of when he became the Raiders' boss. At San Diego, the media nonsense will focus on the ultra-hyped Gruden, while no one will pay heed to Callahan. If I were a rookie head coach going into a Super Bowl, I'd think that could work to my favor quite nicely.

Sweet Play No. 3: Trailing 24-17 on their first possession of the second half, the Flaming Thumbtacks faced second-and-20 from their own 34. The call was a rare "pull draw" -- tackle Fred Miller pulled toward the center and got a great block as Eddie George ran 17 yards. On the next play, Tennessee converted the first.

Steve McNair
Steve hopes to be fully recovered by the 2006 season.
Sour Play No. 3: Facing third-and-8 from the Oakland 22 on the continuation of the above-cited drive, the Flaming Thumbtacks knew that regular kicker Joe Nedney was out injured for the rest of the game. Punter Craig Hentrich also kicks placement, but is a punter. So it's crucial here to move forward, not backward, to insure that any Hentrich attempt is from inside 40 yards. Plus, gain five on the play and you'd probably go on fourth. All this means a draw or conservative quick pass. There's the snap -- Steve McNair sprints backwards and is sacked for an 11-yard loss. Unwilling to let Hentrich try from 50, the Titans ended up punting from the Raiders' 33. Punting from the opposition 33 while behind in a playoff game with light winds! Yumpin' jiminy.

The Football Gods Winced: Still trailing 24-17 in the middle of the third, the Flaming Thumbtacks now faced third-and-10 from their 24. Coaches called an "up" pattern to seldom-used Eddie Berlin, one reception for 14 yards on the year. Sometimes defenses ignore seldom-used receivers breaking deep. Oakland totally ignored Eddie Berlin. McNair put the pass right on his numbers at midfield for a sweet, sweet 76-yard touchdown play -- except that Berlin dropped the ball as if it were a rabid ferret. On the next snap, Oakland tackled Hentrich attempting to punt. The Raiders scored on the possession and the sun began to set on another Titans' season.

The Football Gods Chortled: As the Titans recovered Tim Brown's second-quarter fumble, rookie Tennessee safety Tank Williams became so excited that he furiously jumped up and down pointing the wrong way -- as if trying to convince the officials to give the ball back to Oakland.

Law of Averages Alive and Well: After losing four consecutive appearances in Philadelphia and being outscored there 89-35, City of Tampa won 27-10. After throwing no touchdown passes in his last three appearances in Philadelphia, Brad Johnson dominated the game. After scoring no offensive touchdowns on 36 consecutive possessions in Philadelphia, the Bucs got two on 13 possessions.

Raiders Staff Reads TMQ; Do Raiderettes? Trailing 17-14 with a minute in the half, the Long Johns had first-and-goal on the Titans' one. "Since it's first and goal, this will be a play-fake," TMQ pronounced. And so it was, to uncovered tight end Doug Jolley for the touchdown that changed the game.

Korean DMZ
"Hey, let's ask Bush is he has two $10's for a $5."
The Matter Will Be Referred to the Department of Repetitious Empty Threats: Let me see if I can follow this. President Bush has said that if North Korea ends its nuclear program, the United States will extend energy and food aid. But that was already the deal, signed between Washington and Pyongyang in 1994, that North Korea just broke! We've been giving North Korea fuel and food in return for its claim to have stopped its nuclear program, a claim which Pyongyang now admits was always a lie. So we are offering them gifts again in exchange for a fresh set of lies?

TMQ thinks this is as if you turned on the radio on September 2, 1939, and heard: "In response to the invasion of Poland, the governments of Britain and France today offered to recognize German annexation of the Sudetenland."

A North Korean official reacted to Washington's proposal of more fuel and food in exchange for more lies -- which to TMQ seems a fairly good deal if you are a North Korean official -- by calling the plan "pie in the sky." White House spokesman Air Fleischer noted the reaction was "unofficial." TMQ wondered, what kind of pie? Blueberry? Pecan with chocolate crust?

Listen to a National Public Radio "Morning Edition" piece about how the DMZ between the Koreas has weirdly become a favored site for Japanese tourists, who take bizarre pleasure in watching Koreans point artillery tubes at each other. (Go here, then "Tensions Along DMZ Remain High.") Also, according to NPR, there is now a DMZ gift shop where you can buy authentic snips of barbed wire.

But I Still Have to Push the Button for the Power Running Boards. That's Really Inconvenient. When Will They Offer Automatic Power Running Boards? "An automobile review of the Lincoln Navigator misstated its fuel consumption. In city driving, the car travels about 11 miles on a gallon of gasoline, not on a tankful." Actual correction in the New York Times.

TMQ, who hates SUVs -- see the anti-SUV argument in detail here, a key point being that despite the assumption that SUVs are safe, you are more likely to die inside an SUV than inside a regular car, according the National Academy of Sciences -- thinks 11 miles on a tankful of gasoline is probably the real-world figure for mega-SUVs. Though the Navigator does now offer "power running boards." How has Western civilization gotten this far without power running boards?

Gwyneth Paltrow
TMQ would not kick Gwyneth out of bed for eating crackers.
Last week TMQ his ownself appeared on CNBC ("The Network for People Who Can't Get On MSNBC") to denounce SUVs and was accused by the fire-breathing Larry Kudlow of the military-afterburner-decibels Kudlow & Cramer Show of "being in bed with Hollywood celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow." TMQ can only wish he was in bed with Hollywood celebrities! That would be considerably more fun than being on CNBC.

Auto note: you can now get a Honda Accord in Eternal Blue Pearl. Do Honda's designers claim to know what color things are in the afterlife? Honda also offers a special-edition Civic in a swirly custom paint job called the Honda Incubus. Guess they're not planning to sell a lot of these to Catholic customers.

Reader Haiku: Last chance to offer yours for the current season; use the link at Reader Animadversion. Here are a reader and a staff effort:

Offseason Cheer-Babe Update: As the NFL is about to fold its tents and slip off into the desert, leaving the Arena League cock of the walk, reader Cameron Perry of Miami Beach nominates cheer-babe Bobbi Claar of the Dallas Desperados. According to her team bio, Claar's most embarrassing moment was "Talking to a sixth-grade class and later finding out that my zipper was down." Bobbi, isn't this something that happens to guys, not mega-babes?

Bobbi
Bobbi has sworn off all zippers.
Check out the Desperados' cheerleaders' "3-D scrapbook." The pictures sure looked 2-D to TMQ, though the women themselves are distinctly three-dimensional.

Garish Yellow Sportcoat Update: This weekend the Hall of Fame loya jurga will meet in secret, chant incantations and name those gentlemen who will don a garish yellow sportcoat next August.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback's position is that the Hall of Fame should induct nothing but linemen for the next five years. Of the modern-era members, 40 are quarterbacks or running backs and 49 are linemen -- though on the field, linemen outnumber quarterbacks and running backs three to one. The Canton selectors have a preference for offensive backfield glory boys, and this does not reflect well on their appreciation of what makes football tick. It's inevitable that, say, Time magazine or Entertainment Tonight would only be interested in quarterbacks and running backs, but the Hall of Fame should treat linemen as every bit the equal of glory boys. Toward that end TMQ will endorse only linemen for five years. That means of this year's finalists, TMQ votes for Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure, Claude Humphrey, Bob Kuechenberg and Gary Zimmerman.

Though the selectors are reputed to do a conscientious job of debating the merits of various candidates -- note that selectors are sportswriters, not television bobbleheads, which is the Hall of Fame's way of acknowledging that most bobbleheads have no idea what they are talking about* -- do not be deceived. Selection is political. For one, candidates who have made friends with selectors get a better hearing than those who are prickly, a reason the personable Howie Long was admitted ahead of other candidates with equal credentials, while the aloof Art Monk still waits. For another, lobbying is furious. Last season, Bill Parcells twisted arms like crazy to get himself named, so that he could take another coaching job and become the first Hall of Fame member since George Halas to work the sidelines. Only stiff political resistance stopped this sinister Parcells plan. (Coaches aren't supposed to make Canton until they have left the sport on a bona-fide basis.)

* ESPN bobbleheads excepted.

Jim Kelly
Welcome to the O-fer Hall of Fame Jim.
One political problem facing the selectors is the ever-worsening Buffalo Bills dilemma. In the last two seasons, Canton has tapped two from the Bills' failed Super Bowl run, Jim Kelly and Marv Levy. Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas are deadbolt locks in their first years of eligibility. Bills' owner Ralph Wilson and semi-Bill James Lofton (who bounced around, but started for Buffalo in three of its Super Bowls) are finalists this year; Wilson is a lock at some point, and Lofton will get a hearing. Steve Tasker may become the first special-teams player named to Canton, Andre Reed has a reasonable chance and Kent Hull, the best shotgun center ever, is probable over the long term. (Running backs and quarterbacks get recognized right away, while offensive linemen are usually eligible a decade before anyone notices.)

All this means there could be nine Buffalo representatives in the Hall of Fame from a team that went oh-of-four at the Super Bowl, close to the record 11 representatives from one team, the 1970s Pittsburgh team that went a slightly better four-for-four. Cornelius Bennett might even sneak in, giving the oh-for-four Bills 10 busts in Canton. To top it off, the Hall has to take Joe DeLamielleure soon. Though not on the Buffalo Super Bowl squad, this former Bill is one of only two starters from the NFL's official Team of the Seventies yet to don a garish yellow sportcoat.

TMQ's proposed solution is two-fold. First, the Hall of Fame names nothing but linemen for five years; at the end of that period, equity between grunt-boys and glory-boys will have been established. Then, Canton has a year in which it accepts nothing but Buffalo Bills, inviting as many as it can stand. After that, things return to normal and the electors can resume favoring quarterbacks and running backs.

In Another Canny Personnel Move, Snyder Advised Senate Republicans to Pick Trent Lott as Majority Leader: Viewers of the NFC championship game beheld numerous players who were once members of the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons and sent packing by the evil Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder): Brad Johnson, Shawn Barber, James Thrash, Brian Mitchell, David Akers among them. These gentlemen weren't good enough for Voldemort but good enough to appear in a title game, where Voldemort's team has not been observed under his evil reign. Snyder ordered Johnson, now on his way to the Super Bowl, discarded because he had merely thrown for 6,510 yards and 35 touchdowns as the Persons' starter. As the Bucs' starter, Johnson has thrown for an all-but-identical 6,455 yards and 35 touchdowns -- translating to a Super Bowl invite for City of Tampa -- while the stats of the gentlemen who replaced him for the Persons have been, collectively, cover-your-eyes.

Modern Economics: Next time you're in McDonald's, check the pricing of Chicken McNuggets. On the East Coast, at least, four McNuggets are $1 and six McNuggets are $2.29. So if you want eight McNuggets it will cost you $2 but if you want only six, it'll cost you $2.29. Only in America!

McNuggets
The high-level economic theory that is the McDonald's menu.
This reminds TMQ of a Marx Brothers exchange in which Chico is playing a band leader and Groucho a potential customer.

Groucho: How much do you get for playing?
Chico: $25 an hour.,br> Groucho: How much do you get for practicing?
Chico: $50 an hour.
Groucho: How much do you get for not practicing?
Chico: You couldn't afford it.

More sign of the decline of Western civilization: McDonald's in New Zealand offers a Kiwi Burger.

Single Worst Play of the Championships: Trailing by 10, Philadelphia has first down on the Tampa 10 with 3:21 left. The Eagles have just moved from their 18, showing life for the first time since their opening possession, and the Can't Demolish It Too Soon Field crowd was making military-afterburner-decibel noise. A score here and the Eagles, holding all their timeouts, shift the pressure to the visitors.

Ronde Barber creeps up to the line to show blitz . Donovan McNabb calls a quick slant, every team's standard anti-blitz play, to Antonio Freeman. Barber jumps back directly into the slant lane, intercepts the pass and returns it 92 yards for the icing touchdown. Barber made a fine play, and the scheme of this defense -- show an open slant lane, then jump into that lane -- was well-designed. But McNabb was looking directly at Barber when he sailed the ball. Ay caramba.

TMQ's Super Bowl Prediction: The game will be won by whichever team surprises the other with a rushing-oriented game plan. (Caution: Tuesday Morning Quarterback's motto is, All Predictions Wrong Or Your Money Back.)

TMQ Insider Exclusive! According to the Elias Sports Bureau, TMQ has never written a funny column when the office temperature is below 40 degrees. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive.

Running Items Department

New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses returns to its habitual 0-2 in its triumphant attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-783 since TMQ began tracking.

Misery loves company No. 1: Since the playoffs began the Wall Street Journal has taken to imitating the silliest thing about the New York Times by also forecasting exact NFL final scores. Needless to say, all predictions have been wrong. Late in December, the Journal's football columnist predicted City of Tampa would win the Super Bowl. Then, in forecasting final playoff scores, the same columnist predicted Tampa would lose to the Niners and lose to the Eagles.

Misery loves company No. 2: ESPN asked eight bobbleheads to guess the winners in the championship round. All eight were wrong, though there was a 25 percent probability of being correct by blind chance. (A 50/50 call times a 50/50 call equals 25 percent chance.) Apparently the incredible insider information possessed by the ESPN bobbleheads hampered their accuracy. Had they guessed by blind chance, they would have done better.

Hooters bikini
Come for the contest, stay for the illegal banking.
Reader Animadversion: Many readers including Karen of Alexandria, Virginia -- see her additional contribution at the Challenge -- rose to defend the honor of Hooters. This, apropos TMQ chiding Jon "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Gruden for hanging out at the local Hooters, rather than at Tampa's world-renowned topless clubs. "The Tampa-St.Pete-Clearwater Hooters, original home of the franchise, has some of the finest-looking women I have ever seen," Karen reports. She notes she is a "traditional female" -- which in TMQ-speak means she was at the Tampa Hooters on a date, perhaps, rather than scoping for her own purposes. Mike Kroeger of Overland Park, Kansas, adds this link to the annual Miss Hooters Offshore Bikini Contest. "Offshore?" So they don't have to pay taxes on the bikinis? There is little to tax.

Apropos the lap dances available at Tampa's world-renowned topless clubs, Bill Epner of Toronto boasts that "Canadians have a distinct advantage over our southern brethren, as our laws allow for completely nude lap dances in Canada." Setting aside what the difference might be between "nude" and "completely nude," TMQ's reaction is that this is more evidence of the frostback conspiracy. First, all Canadians can access NFL Sunday Ticket on cable, while in America, Sunday Ticket via cable is denied to the taxpayers who are taxed to build the stadiums that make NFL profits possible. Now it turns out that Canadians get completely nude lap dances, while in the United States it's only topless. Why this fixation on invading Iraq when Canada is the real menace?

Lance DuBos of Singapore was among many who objected to TMQ saying that Bill Cowher should not claim running into the kicker ought to be ignored "only when his team is trailing in overtime." Lance inquires, "How can anyone trail in sudden-death overtime?" Believe me Lance, when the other team's kicker is lining up to try a figgie from 26 yards, you are trailing in overtime.

Many math whizzes, including Susan Spennett of Copenhagen, Denmark, pointed out that TMQ's calculation of the size of the space mirror needed to power the death ray in the latest Bond movie "had methodological faults, such as being wrong." Thanks, Susan, for putting it so delicately. TMQ used the wrong conversion factor for square feet into square miles, making the mirror seem too large. On the other hand, as readers including Jeff Milner of San Jose, Calif., noted, TMQ also failed to take into account that doubling the distance an energy beam must travel requires quadrupling its power, making my square-foot estimate too small.

Roll these two concerns together and it looks like the death-ray space mirror would need a diameter of six miles, not 164 miles as last week's column speculated. Hey, TMQ lives in Washington, where "one thousand" and "two hundred billion" are considered very similar numbers for budgeting purposes -- so a 158-mile error would be viewed as dead-on accurate here. At any rate, the conclusion is unchanged, namely that the North Korean economy could not, as this particular time, support the construction in outer space of an object miles across. Also, as readers, including Jill Howden of Albuquerque, noted, a six-mile-wide object in low-Earth orbit would be visible to the naked eye, whereas in the Bond movie, no one knows the death ray exists until the North Korean super-villain turns it on.

Bumble Bee
TMQ, we'd like you to meet your new tutor.
Jose of Lima, Peru, protests that "ay caramba" is correct, not "aye caramba."

Finally many readers including Ruth Chilton of Bellingham, Wash,, suggested that NFL solve its overtime problem -- two overtime playoff games in succession decided with the losers never getting a crack at the ball -- not by going to the NCAA system but to the NHL system. That is, play a full fifth quarter. Fine maybe for the regular season, but Ruth, what if the fifth quarter ended tied too? In the playoffs, there would have to be a sixth quarter. What if the sixth quarter ended tied?

TMQ believes the pros should adopt a modified version of the nuthin'-but-exciting NCAA system. Alternating possessions, but with possessions starting at midfield, not the downhill 25, so that scoring is hardly automatic. Also, turnover returns would count. A team getting a takeaway and advancing it would start its possession at that point, rather than the 50. A team returning a turnover for a touchdown would simply win (Team A has the ball and Team B runs it back, equal number of possessions), allowing for retention of a partial sudden-death effect.

Last Week's Challenge: TMQ asked for the goofiest "Miss ______" title.

Ben Rogers of Knoxville noted that Tennessee's Mule Day Festival elects a Mule Queen. Philip Jacobs of Centerville, Tenn., reports that the annual Milan, Tenn. celebration of no-till farming chooses a Miss No Till. Lanna Keck, Miss Tennessee of 1997, got her first break in the business as Miss No Till. Jamie Paquette of Brooklyn proposes Miss Rodeo Idaho, whose current title holder, Amanda Kent, has won competitions for "barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping and team roping."

Ridgid calendar
Power tools and bikinis -- it's like bacon and eggs isn't it?
Marv Murray of Augusta, Ga., notes that Ridgid Tools, whose swimsuit calendars hang in every garage and body shop in the country, hands out a Miss Ridgid Tool. Preview the calendar babes here

. Tom Vasich of Costa Mesa, Cali., noted that Marilyn Monroe got one of her first breaks being named the 1947 Artichoke Queen. According to the history page of the California Artichoke Festival, "It's a little-known fact that Marilyn continued to enjoy her love affair with artichokes and it is rumored this contributed to her marital troubles with Joe DiMaggio." Huh? Artichokes contributed to Marilyn's martial troubles with Joltin' Joe? Is the California Artichoke Festival trying to suggest that she preferred using artichokes to -- ?

Rhett Hall of Bayville, N.Y., notes that the annual Morgan City, La., Shrimp and Petroleum Festival names a King and Queen. "Shrimp and petroleum" sounds like something on the menu in a Cajun restaurant.

Karen of Alexandria notes that the county fair in Charles County, Maryland, a tobacco-farming area, chooses a Queen Nicotina.

Josh Hummert of Madison, Wisc., conveys that Angela Hemauer is the current reigning Alice in Dairyland, spokesqueen for Wisconsin dairy products. According to her official bio, Angela is a Cornell University grad with her degree in animal science, and relaxes by running marathons. No swimsuit photo, sadly.

Greta Jordan of Ayden, N.C., reports that her town annually names a Miss Collard Greens. She could not find any pictures of past winners, and adds, "Maybe that's not such a bad thing."

Andrew Heath of Baltimore notes the annual Ugly Truck contest in Hampton Roads, Virginia, names a Miss Ugly Truck; hazy snapshots of the mega-babe candidates are available here.

Keir Johnson of Woodbury, Minn., notes that the annual Minnesota State Fair chooses a dairy spokesqueen with the odd name Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Winners get a bust of themselves sculpted entirely in butter; see Stephanie Hoeft being sculpted here. See the current reigning Princess, Sarah Olson, here. The pageant's sponsor sternly warns that a winner must accept "duties on behalf of the dairy farmers in your county," including touring with the exhibit "Milk: From Cow to You"

Pork queen
Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses -- yearning to eat the other white meat.
Brad Twarowski of Spring Grove, Ill., notes that the Miss Arizona Dream Girl competition spreads the wealth by choosing someone every month; gawk at Miss Arizona Dream Girl of January, Aubry Ballard, here.

Gary Ward of Cranberry, Penn., reports that each year the town of Geneva, Ohio, names a Miss Grapette. A past winner reports here that "Being Miss Grapette has been the most amazing experience ... I had to learn to properly do the queen wave, act like a queen and smile, smile, smile."

Many female readers, including Sheila Woodward of Yankton, S.D., and Tina Miles of Upland, Ind., expressed horror over the Iowa Pork Queen. Reigning queen Dawn Kruger and her princess Stacey Schmidt may be gasped at here.

This week's Challenge goes to Kristy Bowie of Ithaca, N.Y., who reports that the annual Spring Ho Festival in Lampasas, Texas, chooses a Miss Spring Ho. The current reigning Miss Spring Ho is Elizabeth Rollins; sadly, TMQ could not locate her likeness.

Promoters depict the Spring Ho Festival as a family event. "I never thought something with the word 'ho' in it would be described as family-oriented," Kristy notes. But Kristy, Eminem is now being pitched as a mainstream act, and every other word he speaks is "ho." Probably soon Eminem will have a zany, laff-riot sitcom called "The Ho and Me."

This Week's Challenge: If you were a judge interviewing prospective NFL cheer-babes -- or cheer-hunks, for female readers -- what (printable) questions would you ask? Explain here.

TMQ Season Finale! Be sure to read next week to find out:

  • Will the football gods send a typhoon to force the Raiders and Bucs to run?
  • Will Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden get carded at the San Diego Hooters?
  • Were the Moon landings faked?
  • What is the sinister conspiracy behind dog candy?
  • Do dogs have constitutional rights?
  • How many cheap, gratuitous swimsuit photos can be crammed into one column?
  • Who finished last in TMQ's annual Bad Predictions Review?
  • Who will commit the Single Worst Play of Super Bowl XXXVII?

    Don't miss the incredible season finale of Tuesday Morning Quarterback!

    Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is believed to be the first Brookings scholar ever to write a pro football column. You can buy his book, "The Here and Now" here ... and now.