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Tuesday, September 2, 2003
Updated: April 25, 12:13 PM ET
Most accurate NFL predictions anywhere

By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

It finally happened: Everybody got a killer schedule!

Each year when NFL schedules are released, coaches moan. A lot of the dissatisfaction boils down to this: "They're making us play half our games on the road!" Complaints about consecutive away games are never balanced by the recognition that this means there must be consecutive home dates. Road games in December are always the subject of moaning; but so far as TMQ can tell, exactly one-half of December pairings must be away teams.

A night game followed by an away game makes coaches weep, though nobody ever complains about getting night home dates, where the odds strongly favor the host. Flying to the opposite coast, it's grueling, you have no idea. And those games within our conference -- why, there's no avoiding them! What a killer schedule!

This year, the Packers are complaining that they drew consecutive-week West Coast trips in December. Kansas City is complaining about three of its final five on the road, not mentioning that the Chiefs also get a highly favorable string of four of five at home. The Raiders are complaining about two away night games in the first three weeks. The Giants are complaining that two of their first three dates are within the division. The Chargers are complaining about six trips east of the Rockies. The Dolphins are complaining about a third straight year going to Buffalo after Thanksgiving. According to ESPN.com's Greg Garber, even the lowly Lions are complaining that they have Denver and St. Louis on their sked -- though neither of these made the playoffs last season.

Bill Cowher
"I'm tired of getting screwed by the refs and the schedule-makers!"

Scratch any NFL coach or GM and you will hear a complaint about the sked. Incredibly, everybody got a killer schedule! The reason for endless schedule complaints is expectations. Set them low. Present the season as an impossible challenge, a conspiracy by the league office against your team. Then if the team plays well, the coach and GM have essentially patted themselves on the back for their genius in overcoming the impossible schedule. If the team plays poorly, well, everyone knows we had a killer schedule.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback advises ignoring the "strength of schedule" comparisons and complaints. Coming into last season, the strength meter rated Chicago and St. Louis as power teams, the Browns and Falcons as weak sisters. This season, several squads that rate as power teams for strength-of-schedule purposes will turn out to be pushovers, while several squads with weak-sister ratings will turn out fearsome. Strength-of-schedule is always a phony barometer; where you travel in what week tells more.

For what it's worth, TMQ thinks the 2003 NFL schedule is among of the fairest ever. Only one team, Pittsburgh, faces an away Monday Night appearance followed by an away date. Playing away on MNF, then another away game, is a legitimate cause for grievance. The league insured that all teams playing away on Monday night in 2003 -- except Pittsburgh -- get a home date or a bye the next week. Why this courtesy couldn't have been extended to the Steelers isn't clear.

Two teams genuinely are screwed by the 2003 schedule: Green Bay and Miami. They're the unlucky ducks who drew the Thanksgiving Day trips to Dallas and Detroit. Each has to play on Sunday, get just three days of rest, then board a plane. Miami is even stuck with a night game Sunday, then the short Thanksgiving week plus travel.

As TMQ has written before and will surely write again, the league's system of allowing Dallas and Detroit to host on Thanksgiving every year is one-sided. Hosting every Turkey Day both confers an annual half-game advantage on the Cowboys and the Lions in the standings, and totally screws whatever team is sent on the road with just three days' rest. It is past time the league began rotating the Thanksgiving hosting slots among all teams; and, as well, manipulating the schedule so that the two away Thanksgiving teams have a bye the Sunday before.

Now to TMQ's annual all-haiku season predictions. Still America's only all-poetry pro football forecast!

A note on methodology. One year, in the parity spirit, I forecast that every team would finish 8-8. Another year, I forecast records that, sharp-eyed readers noticed, were identical to the teams' finishes from the prior year. Another year, I forecast records that did not add up to the total number of possible wins and loses. Last year, under intense pressure from ESPN corporate management, I made a genuine attempt to predict records, and ended up either exactly correct or within one game of correct for 18 of the league's 32 teams. My secret? Blind luck.

Regarding the Super Bowl, for four years running I have made the generic prediction that "the team goin' to DisneyWorld would come from among the group that did not appear on Monday Night Football." Three straight years correct -- Rams, Ravens and Patriots -- and last year wrong, as the Bucs were a Monday Night baby. If I could call three of four long shots like that at Vegas or the track, I'd be riding around in a stretch white with at least two mega-babes from whatever is the most expensive internet-based escort service.

This year, I am sticking to my guns: The team goin' to DisneyWorld will come from among the group that did not make the cut for Monday Night Football. Scanning the MNF sked, we find that the teams shut out are Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Jax, Minnesota, New Orleans and Seattle. That's a sorry, shaggy list, but if the league braintrust, reflected in the MNF taps, thinks none of these will amount to much, TMQ feels certain there's a gem in the group. (And yes, the Bears and Cowboys made Monday Night despite a combined 9-23 finish last season.)

Drew Bledsoe
If those unis weren't so damn ugly, the Bills would win 12 games instead of 10.

As always, this column's motto is: All Predictions Wrong Or Your Money Back. TMQ is free, get it? So if somehow a prediction isn't wrong, then you would receive -- oh, never mind.

AFC East

League's worst uniforms:
football gods cover their eyes.
The Buffalo Bills.

Forecast record: 10-6

Invincible till
Halloween. Don't ask Dolphins
about December.

Forecast record: 10-6

Bill Belichick pass
on ev'ry down? Hell hath froze.
The New England Pats.

Forecast record: 12-4

Play in stadium
named after a different team!
The Jersey/B Jets.

Forecast record: 6-10

The Kiss
TMQ was unable to write for two days after watching the MTV Music Video Awards.

Or, Alternatively, Britney Just Came Back Seeing from the Movie "Thirteen": Days before she was to headline the NFL's presumably family-oriented opening-night show, Britney Spears played some serious tongue hockey with Madonna on MTV. An obvious attempt to pander to the gay Canadian market!

Set aside what it says about 21st-century culture that the fantasy of sexual contact between two beautiful women, once a preserve of sophisticated adult erotica, is now being mass-marketed by corporate-sponsored babes on national television. TMQ thinks that in keeping with the current world political situation, Americans should stop French kissing. Or, at least, the name of this form of recreation should be changed to reflect a nation that supported United States policy on Iraq. That would make the possibilities:

  • British kissing.

  • Polish kissing.

  • Danish kissing.

  • Australian kissing.

  • Albania kissing.

  • Spanish kissing.

  • Jordanian kissing.

  • Singaporean kissing.

    Danish kissing evokes pleasant thoughts of tall blondes; but Spain, a romantic destination, has probably inspired more actual kissing than standoffish Denmark. British kissing sounds deathly boring. Kissing, along with everything else, is forbidden in Singapore. Australia is developing a reputation for having a healthy, highly pro-sex viewpoint -- it boasts the world's best nude dancer clubs, and men stripping for women is as socially acceptable there as women stripping for men. But Australia is just too far away. Since Jordan and Albania were the two mainly Muslim countries that supported United States policy on Iraq, TMQ proposes that the practice in question be renamed Jordanio-Albanian kissing.

    Bill Parcells
    What, you wanted a photo of the Cowboys cheerleaders instead?

    NFC East

    Team? Awful! But thanks
    for starting the cheer-babe fad.
    The Dallas Cowboys.

    Forecast record: 4-12

    Only team that calls
    fair catch on its own kick snaps.
    Jersey/A Giants.

    Forecast record: 9-7

    Team? Great! And thanks for
    cheerleaders who wear still less.
    The Philly Eagles.

    Forecast record: 12-4

    Compared to owner,
    team name is inoffensive.
    "Washington" R*dsk*ns.

    Forecast record: 6-10

    Mars
    Rumor has it the NFL wants to rent out billboard space on Mars.

    Even Worse, the Martians Get DirecTV: I don't know about you, but I think Mars has gotten a little too close for comfort. Just 34,647,420 miles away -- come one mile closer and we'll open fire! Look very carefully at this Hubble Space Telescope image and you will see, etched into one of the canals, the phrase "The Red Planet Presented by Bank One."

    Welcome to TMQ Humor Presented by Quizno's: Thursday's NFL opening night event is "presented by Pepsi Vanilla." This makes it a huge relief Chicago is not on the card, else we would have heard, "Welcome to Bears football presented by Bank One presented by Pepsi Vanilla."

    TMQ's position on Pepsi Vanilla: The stuff would taste pretty good if they took the vanilla out.

    Miss Belgium
    TMQ has hired Miss Belgium as its director of public relations.

    La Belgique: Terre des P.R. Bébés de Swimsuit et des Serveurs Hautains: Reader Sylvia Dominique of Brussels wrote to protest TMQ's declaring the Belgian national motto is, We May Be Small But We're Annoying. "Belgium is among the few modern nations that has never invaded a neighboring state," Dominique noted, while allowing that, "our waiters may be annoying, but at this point diners would almost be disappointed if they were not." TMQ stands by his assertion, and translates the Belgian national motto into French: Nous Pouvons Être Petits, Mais Nous Sommes Ennuyants. And this letter creates an excellent flimsy excuse for the ESPN.com art department to show a swimsuit photo of the current reigning Miss Belgium, Julie Taton, a college student who is studying public relations. Julie, please improve Belgium's image!

    AFC North

    QB-a-rama.
    Step right up and try your luck!
    The Bal'mer Ravens.

    Forecast record: 6-10

    Worst in league, worst in
    the hearts of their countrymen.
    The Cincy Bungles.

    Forecast record: 9-7

    Gone. Back. Now back in
    postseason. The Cleveland Browns
    Release 2.1.

    Forecast record: 9-7

    Moved from field where four
    titles forged: Ketchup bests rings.
    The Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Forecast record: 10-6

    Pabst
    Don't let the neighbors know, but TMQ secretly keeps a fridge stocked full of PBR.

    Andecker: The Official Extinct Beer of TMQ: Pabst Blue Ribbon ("PBR" to those in the know) has inexplicably become the hit beer of the year. TMQ once spent a summer in Wisconsin and quaffed his share of this pleasant, mild beverage, which arose when transplanted German brewers adapted their craft to American tastes. I thought the Pabst company had gone out of business, to much recrimination among Milwaukee brewery workers. Turns out the brewery itself disappeared, but PBR has re-emerged with the help of a San Antonio firm whose goal is to keep alive the traditional local labels that are vanishing in an age of Bud-Miller-Coors megabrewing.

    Pabst Brewing Company now produces, among other local favorites, PBR, Lone Star, Olympia, Heileman's Special Export, Stroh's, Rainer Ale, Carling Black Label, Ballentine Ale, Blatz, Schlitz, Old Style, Old Milwaukee, McSorley's and Schaefer, after which the place where the New England Patriots once played was once named. Only some of these brews (Heileman's, Ballentine, Rainer) evoke pleasant memories for TMQ; a few simply weren't as good as mainline Bud or Coors. But someone ought to kept Blatz in production if only for its name.

    Turns out that although Pabst Brewing Company sells PBR with a Milwaukee PO box on the can, as if it had revived the original, today's version is actually brewed on contract by Miller. Same, it seems, for the other labels as well -- Pabst is mainly a virtual brewery, though Heileman's still comes from LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and Lone Star still is brewed in Texas. Regardless of origin, all brews on the PRB company's list hold wonderful associations of places and times that will never return, but whose beers might stick around a while longer.

    Read the saga of Frederick Pabst himself here. Read about High Falls Brewing, a Rochester, New York company that has managed to stay in business as a local independent making Genesee Cream Ale and other nostalgic place-and-time labels, here.

    If TMQ could have one beer-based wish granted, it would be the revival of Andecker, the old Pabst premium brand. Back in the days when men were manly men, women didn't feel up other women on national television and all Milwaukee reeked of factory soot, Andecker was the brew devised by Pabst to counter Budweiser's Michelob. This beer was delicious and sold in one of the best-looking bottles ever. How about it, PBR brass? Bring back Andecker!

    NFC North

    Famous field rebuilt
    to make it more expensive.
    The Chicago Bears.

    Forecast record: 5-11

    Kordell Stewart
    Random thought: Would Kordell Stewart be better at composing haiku than composing touchdown drives?

    Bonus: reader's prediction haiku!

    Kordell of fleet feet
    will spend much time on his seat.
    Bears: seven and nine.

    Eisenhower was prez
    last time they took home the ring.
    The Detroit Peugeots.

    Forecast record: 4-12

    Say it ain't so! Soon,
    Kraft Cheez-Whiz Field at Lambeau.
    The Green Bay Packers.

    Forecast record: 10-6

    The franchise that fields
    not a team but an ego:
    The MN Randys.

    Forecast record: 6-10

    Patriots cheerleader
    Doesn't Jeri seem a little overqualified to be a cheerleader?

    Cheerleader of the Week: Reader John Twomey, West Point '73, writes to note that Patriots cheer-babe Jeri Colbert is both a West Point graduate and attending Harvard Law School. "Ask yourself," Twomey writes, "would you wish to confront a product of the world's premier leadership institution, a trained warrior and a soon-to-be Harvard lawyer?" TMQ's reply: "Sir, no sir!" Colbert, a distance runner and weight-trainer, says her life goals are to "run for Congress, own a health club and write books." Presumably, this would make her the only healthy member of Congress, which would be well worth writing about.

    AFC South

    From president's state,
    offense shows big deficit.
    The Houston Texans.

    Forecast record: 4-12

    Have Dungy, Big Three:
    don't have postseason W.
    Indy Lucky Charms.

    Forecast record: 10-6

    Once fresh, popular.
    Now aged, wearing out welcome.
    The Jax Jaguars.

    Forecast record: 6-10

    Wandered searching for
    a home. Now, search for cap space.
    The Flaming Thumbtacks.

    Forecast record: 11-5

    Finally, Someone Worse Than Ryan Leaf: Carolina quarterback Randy Fasani gave up on football last week, "retiring" if that's the right verb for a young sprout in his twenties. Under the NFL's cryptic formula, if every pass a gentleman throws clangs to the ground incomplete, 39.6 is his rating. Fasani departs with a career passer rating of 8.8.

    Hillary: I Did Not Have Professional Relations With That Woman, My Ghostwriter: An earlier TMQ noted that while Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to lie about being the author of "Living History," increasingly authors receiving assistance take the high road and admit to the aid of a ghostwriter. The latest example is "A Mighty Heart," the upcoming book about the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. This volume is being honestly marketed as "by Mariane Pearl and Sarah Crichton." Pearl is the dead man's widow and Crichton, former publisher of Little-Brown, did most of the writing.

    That Mariane Pearl is being honest about receiving writing help is just one of the many things TMQ admires about this gallant woman. And there's a phrase with a nice ring, "being honest." Senator Clinton, why not give it a try?

    NFC South

    Can't run a 4.3
    40 in a cast, Michael.
    Atlanta Falcons.

    Forecast record: 9-7

    The Hindenburg
    Picking the Saints to actually win a playoff game this season? Not to burst your balloon, but it's not going to happen.

    Real panthers once thought
    extinct, now coming back. Can
    football Panthers too?

    Forecast record: 9-7

    Yearly, balloon bursts:
    try Hindenburg as logo?
    The New Orleans Saints.

    Forecast record: 8-8

    Pirate-themed franchise
    steals its first ring. Yo ho ho!
    The Tampa Bay Bucs.

    Forecast record: 12-4

    Though If Her Views Are Anti-American, She'll Fit Right In at Harvard: Miss America has renovated its website, which gives TMQ some hope that, after the upcoming pageant, the organization will finally post photos of the swimsuit competition. Meanwhile let's check in with the current Miss America, Erika Harold, who is about to hand over her crown.

    Like Jeri Colbert, Howard is Harvard Law: She'll attend as soon as her Miss America stint is up. Two gorgeous women attending Harvard Law School -- that's twice as many as in all previous classes combined! Now consider Erika Harold's weird "platform" statement:

    Miss America
    Just what America needs: another Harvard Law student with an agenda.

    "As Miss America 2003, I am issuing a national call to action, challenging every segment of American society to take a proactive, comprehensive approach to eradicating the culture of violence and harassment that is pervasive."

    What -- Miss America thinks America is based on "a culture of violence and harassment?" Isn't that sort of an anti-American view? Crime, including hate crime, is in a decade-long cycle of decline, while ever-stricter workplace, school and other rules have made the nation, if anything, hyper-sensitive to harassment. The chance of being murdered in New York City is now lower than it was in the 1950s, while harassment is so tightly policed that people lose their jobs just for sending emails that the recipient finds offensive. Yet Miss America thinks the United States is grounded in a "culture of violence and harassment that is pervasive." Maybe when you get to Harvard Law, Erika, they'll teach you a little perspective about what used to be common, vs. today.

    AFC West

    Fans sigh with relief;
    now Bills' unis uglier.
    The Denver Broncos.

    Forecast record: 8-8

    The NBA in
    cleats; nobody plays defense.
    Those let-'em-score Chiefs.

    Forecast record: 7-9

    Coming off blown Bowl:
    who will Davis sue for that?
    The Oakland Long Johns.

    Forecast record: 9-7

    Vie with Dolphins for
    best babes in crowd. The beach-based
    San Diego Bolts.

    Forecast record: 8-8

    "Then Jesus Looked At His Followers and Said, 'How Hard It Will Be for the Rich to Enter the Kingdom of Heaven!'" The New York Stock Exchange is giving Richard Grasso, its CEO, a $139.5 million payday. Reward for a job well-done! Grasso has presided over the worst corporate scandals in American history, mostly having to do with stock manipulation which, mysteriously, the NYSE never noticed. During Grasso's tenure the big Wall Street trading houses have paid record fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission for engaging in stock-market fraud -- which, mysteriously, the NYSE never noticed. Under Grasso's watch the whole notion of corporate stock has become synonymous in the public mind with three-card monte. Great job, Dick!

    This overpayment is especially grotesque given that the NYSE is a quasi-public institution, supervised by the SEC and operated under a charter that essentially exempts its management from market risk. And bear in mind that like all grotesque CEO overpayments, this money is not popping out of the air -- it is popping out of your pocket. Corporations pay a fee to have their stocks listed on the NYSE. That fee reduces the funds they could otherwise issue as dividends to stockholders, which reduces your mutual-fund and retirement income so that Dick Grasso has more money than he could possibly need. A check for $139.5 million handed to a man for sitting in a government-protected leather chair, who will now cackle as he counts his gold and millions of Americans go to bed crying in anxiety over small sums. (One American in eight lives below the poverty line.) Grasso ought be ashamed. But then, that assumes American CEOs are capable of feeling shame.

    NFC West

    Good seats are always
    available: The unwatched
    Arizona Cards.

    Forecast record: 3-13

    Kurt Warner
    Kurt Warner is back, but TMQ doesn't think that means the Rams will return to the playoffs.

    Bummed by football rule:
    can only pass once per play.
    The St. Louis Rams.

    Forecast record: 7-9

    Wins big playoff game:
    Coach, that's a firing offense!
    The S.F. Niners.

    Forecast record: 9-7

    Still work to wash off
    that Seattle fishy smell.
    Who? The Blue Men Group.

    Forecast record: 8-8

    And Exactly Why Weren't You One of His Favorite Persons?After being let go by Pittsburgh a year ago, former lottery pick Troy Edwards denounced the Steelers as "a bunch of punks" and said the coaching staff had no idea how to use his magnificent talents. Last week, after being let go by the Rams, Edwards denounced the receivers who made the squad ahead of him ("I just don't see what the people they kept did that was so great"), called Rams coach Mike Martz prejudiced ("It was nothing about my abilities, I just wasn't one of his favorite persons") and said the St. Louis coaching staff had no idea how to use his magnificent talents. Edwards concluded, "I'm not going kiss up to nobody just to have a job." Troy, the unemployed never have to kiss up.

    The Rams also waived OL Travis Scott, whom you've never heard of. A year ago, TMQ noted that Martz, who once coached at Arizona State, weirdly insisted on using a 2002 fourth-round draft pick on this ASU gentleman even though Scott didn't start in college. The situation was so ridiculous that the ASU booster club issued a statement expressing "shock" that a college nonentity would be a high NFL draft pick.

    Immediately after arriving in St. Louis, Scott was put on IR so that Martz didn't have to cut him right away. TMQ wrote, "Scott will be quietly waived after everyone's forgotten who he is. Scott takes home almost $500,000 for participating in this charade, so he's happy. But what gives with Martz? Martz also insisted on using his fifth pick in the 2002 draft on QB conversion project Steve Bellisari, who's also vanished to IR." Bellisari was also waived last week. This means the Rams spent 2002 fourth-round and fifth-round picks on guys who never played a snap, and easily could have been brought in for tryouts as undrafted free agents. It's nutty personnel decisions like these that are draining the Rams' talent pool, and Martz's insistence on calling all shots is the root problem. Bear in mind TMQ's immutable laws of football, Either a Coach or a Manager Be -- and its corollary, Neither a Scout Nor a Negotiator Coaches Be.

    Dare You Doubt My Immutable Laws? The league just suspended Blue Men Group tackle Chris Terry, for violating the drug rule. This is further proof of the immutable law, Either a Coach or a Manager Be. Last November, the Panthers waived Terry after he failed to report for a court hearing on his wife's charge against him of assault. Mike Holmgren, then acting both as the Hawks' coach and GM, rapidly signed Terry, handing him a $5 million bonus. Pretty good pay for laughing at the law! Now Terry is laughing at Holmgren; Terry has the five mil and the Hawks have a missing tackle, a big cap charge and a serious problem. How could Holmgren not have known that Terry is a bad apple? The entire rest of the league knew; no one but Seattle even made an offer.

    Running Items Department

    Obscure College Score of the Week: Item returns! Eastern Illinois beat Obscure College favorite California of Pennsylvania, 27-0. Located in Charleston, Illinois, Eastern Illinois offers dorm rooms with loft spaces but sternly cautions, "The university assumes no responsibility for any personal or property damage resulting from the use of lofts or student-built bunk beds." The mission statement of the Division of Student Affairs declares, "It is the mission of the Division of Student Affairs to guide students toward understanding and attending to those aspects of their lives which enhance their total educational experiences." Besides this being psychobabble gibberish, when TMQ was in college, the goal of Student Affairs was to have lots of them!

    Obscure College Stat: Bethune-Cookman, Eastern Illinois, McNeese State, New Hampshire, Northeastern, North Carolina State and The Citadel defeated California of Pennsylvania, Central Connecticut, Charleston Southern, Henderson State, Savannah State, Stonehill and West Carolina by a combined 402-68.

    New York Times Final-Score Score: Item returns next week! In the meantime, check this actual quote from a recent news story in the New York Times: "Psychically, metaphorically, evolutionarily, teeth go way down and way back and carry multiple, paradoxical meanings. The tale of teeth is the ultimate oral history, and if it is only by coincidence that tooth rhymes with truth, the words still make a pretty good team." Maybe the editors had the day off.

    The Car Alarms Echoing Off the Pastoral Hills Always Chokes Me Up: The Obscure College running item arises from the pleasure TMQ receives, each Sunday in the fall, picking up the paper and simply reading scores of the Indiana of Pennsylvania and Pittsburg of Kansas and Chadron State and similar obscure games. All across our great nation on autumn afternoons, ill-tempered gentlemen in plastic armor are slamming into each other in small stadiums at leafy idyllic campuses that, Brigadoon-like, are pleasantly removed from the normal world. TMQ finds it reassuring to think that long after you and I have departed this mortal coil and are trying to scalp tickets to meet the football gods, people in plastic will still be slamming into each other in stadiums at idyllic small campuses, while guys in the stands try to get girls' phone numbers and car alarms go off in the parking lot.

    Ian Smart
    Ian, we'll put you in the TMQ Hall of Fame.

    But as the Obscure College Score item returns in fine mettle, TMQ is sad to report that a player who will be a first-ballot entrant to the Obscure College Hall of Fame, tailback Ian Smart of C.W. Post, was cut by the Jets.

    Smart left C.W. Post last season as college football's all-time leading scorer (570 points), all-time leading touchdown-maker (95) and fourth all-time in rushing (6,647 yards). C.W. Post, located on an idyllic wooded campus on the peaceful northern shore of Long Island, offers students a chance to stroll through the mansion owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress of the Post Cereal fortune and once one of the world's richest women, and her husband E.F. Hutton, founder of the investment banking house. Hillwood, completed in 1931 and now used for university administration, actually has seven gables, the mansion signature touch of the era. The gables depict flowers, animals, mythology and adoration of wine -- surely that last has not escaped students' attention. Students called to Hillwood for disciplinary violations are told that by school rules they can have an advisor, but only if the advisor is not a lawyer.

    Reader Animadversion: Item returns! Got a comment or a deeply felt grievance? Register it at tmqespn@yahoo.com.

    Reader Jon Wallace numbered among several protesting TMQ's contention that Kenyon Martin has only himself to blame for his thug look causing him to get the short end of numerous calls in the NBA championship. TMQ wrote that Martin "cultivates the thug look -- excessive tattoos, cloaking his head on the bench -- and so the refs treat him as a thug and presume guilt. Tim Duncan, by contrast, cultivates the look of a guy you'd want your daughter to marry, so the refs give Duncan the benefit of the doubt." Generally, TMQ noted, thug-look guys like Martin and Allen Iverson have been frustrated in the NBA playoffs, while the rings go to clean-cut, winning-smile gents like Duncan, Michael Jordan and Shaq. Wallace countered that such thinking "imposes a white middle-class standard of appearance on African American expression."

    Yes it does, and those are the breaks. Despite basketball's cultural standing as a black sport, the majority of NBA ticket-buyers are white, simply because the majority of Americans are white. This being the case, a black NBA player who likes the thug look faces a choice: Express himself and be misunderstood by the majority, or conform and be popular. (We're assuming here that the thug look is just a look, that is, tells us nothing about a person's inner worth, in the same way that a clean-cut look hardly assures us a person is honorable. Ollie North was pretty clean-cut.) If an African-American player decides that looking the way he wants to look is more important than making a good impression on the fans, who are his employers, or on the referees, who help determine his success, that's his choice. But he must be a grown-up regarding the consequences.

    As legal scholars say about the First Amendment, just because speech is free doesn't mean it has no cost: When you speak freely, you may pay a cost in causing others to think you're a nutcase. When an NBA player freely opts for the thug look, he may pay a cost by causing others to think he's a bad person. Most men and women who labor in the public spotlight choose to conform in things that don't matter (haircuts, clothes) so that they can follow their convictions in things that do matter. Kenyon Martin has made his choice, and pays the cost.

    Katie Hnida
    Is being a third-string kicker for New Mexico a good thing?

    It's Up -- and It's Not Good: Katie Hnida of the University of New Mexico, a history major, became the first woman to score in a Division 1-A game, kicking two PATs as the Lobos pounded on cupcake opponent Texas State-San Marcos. Hnida's kicks came with 5:05 and 1:21 left in a blowout -- that is, after New Mexico's real kicker handled the real chores. Actually, after the team's two real kickers. Hnida is third-string, and trotted onto the field only when it was 64-8 and even the second-stringers had finished for day.

    There's a word for all this, and the word is stunt. As TMQ has written before, if a woman can make a football team based on the same criteria used for men -- performance -- then of course she must play. (And, as noted before, TMQ hopes never to meet that woman.) But what are the odds Hnida, who shanked her only previous PAT attempt, made the New Mexico squad solely on merit?

    TMQ bets Kate Hnida has athletic talent, and might excel on a women's team in some sport. In football, the sport most keyed to muscular strength, the best a woman can aspire to is being below average -- and this is Hnida's achievement, becoming a below-average player who appears in the closing moments of blowouts. If Hnida's two kicks fulfilled some childhood goal, then more power to her. But given the pumped-up arms race that is sports -- women are getting more athletically proficient as women's sports become ubiquitous, but male athletes grow bigger and stronger every year too -- even ever-more-adept female athletes have scant hope of catching men at football.

    Now think of the downsides to Hnida's achievement. First: Girls or women who try out for boys' or men's football team are chasing the dream of being below average, when they might excel in a sport not keyed to bicep size. Second: By college age and probably sooner, it's hard to believe there is any girl or woman who can win a spot on a football team based solely on performance; the girl or woman who tries out is essentially claiming a special privilege with the implied threat of a lawsuit. When men claim special privileges it's cheesy, and the shoe looks no better on the female foot. Third: Once you drag the courts into this, if women can demand to play on men's teams, how long until men threaten lawsuits to play on teams set aside for women? If the end result is some judge ordering that the distinction between men's and women's college athletics be dissolved, women who play sports will be the losers by a significant margin.

    Fourth and finally, under the college Title IX criteria, football is classed as a men's sport which must, in almost every case, be balanced by the school sponsoring a women's sport. Scatter a few stunt-category women around the nation's collegiate football teams, and some smart athletic director will assert that football is no longer a "men's" sport that must be balanced by a women's sport. Mark TMQ's words.

    The Borg
    Why are there always plot loopholes when the Borg enter the picture?

    This Week's Star Trek Complaint: Item returns! Or soon will with the new television season. For now, TMQ throws out a leftover complaint from last season.

    In an Enterprise episode in which three Starfleet researchers travel from their base in San Francisco to a site in the Arctic Circle in order to examine frozen Borg drones from an ancient crash, the Starfleet gang arrives in a spaceship. Why is it necessary to use a spaceship to go from California to Canada? This absurd detail is inserted only so that the Borg, once reanimated, can steal the spaceship and threaten the galaxy.

    The stolen ship is pursued by our heroes aboard the Enterprise, who catch up in deep space one day after the Borg flee Earth. We see the stolen ship, which has become substantially larger. How? "They've added Borg technology," explains an Enterprise crewmember. Set aside that, according to the chronology previously told to viewers in the earlier serial "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Earth will not have its first encounter with Borg technology for 200 years after the period being depicted. TMQ simply asks, Where did the materials come from? The Borg have inserted some technology into the stolen spacecraft and supposedly this technology causes the spacecraft to grow, adding larger engines, more weapons and so on. Regardless of Borg science, the spacecraft could not grow without adding materials. Where did the materials come from?

    Similarly, in the "Spiderman" movie, Tobey Maguire constantly shoots webbing in such amounts that he can swing from the tops of skyscrapers or along the length of Fifth Avenue. Where does the material come from? As the Official Eight-Year-Old of TMQ, Spenser, remarked on seeing this movie, "Dad, for every pound of webbing Spiderman shoots, wouldn't he have to eat a pound of food?" Well spoken, Spensey. It's like in the "Alien" movies, where the snake-sized alien larva turns into an enormous razor-jawed beast in just a few minutes, without eating anything! Spontaneous appearance of material is becoming, to special-effects creators, the equivalent of movie guns that can blaze away firing hundreds of rounds, without anyone pausing to reload. (Warning: Logical flaws in Hollywood special effects is going to be a TMQ theme this season.)

    Note that in the original Spidey comix, the radioactive bite gives Peter Parker a spider's disproportionate strength and enhanced senses; but our hero, a chemist by profession, designs the web-shooter and its fluids on his own. In the movie, webs simply emanate from Parker's wrists. Why this plot change? Partly so that, for movie marketing reasons, Peter can be dumbed down from an adult chemist to a gawking high-school student. And partly so that there need never be any explanation of where the web material comes from, enabling those scenes of Parker swinging down Fifth Avenue. In the original comix, Spiderman rarely used his webs, because running out of fluid was a constant problem. In the movie, Spidey's webs operate in defiance of physical law -- one of the reasons special effects are becoming so stupid, another theme TMQ will develop this season.

    This Week's Challenge: Item returns! Write a clever haiku encapsulating your favorite team, and submit it to tmqespn@yahoo.com. The best may be mentioned in next week's column, and the authors may receive some worthless ESPN trinket. Bear in mind that this is a challenge, not a contest. We promise nothing, the rules are kept secret even from the judges and the final decision will be completely arbitrary.

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