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Monday, January 29, 2007
Updated: March 21, 3:41 PM ET
Unconventional Super Bowl wisdom

By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

The power-rushing team will run, run, run to keep the other side's deep-strike offense off the field. That's what conventional wisdom says will happen in Miami at the Super Bowl. But what if Indianapolis is the power-rushing team?

It's a fallacy that Chicago has a sluggish rush-only attack while Indianapolis uses only a pass-wacky philosophy. Check the postseason stats. Equalizing for Chicago having a bye while Indianapolis did not, and factoring for scrambles, sacks and kneel-downs, in the playoffs the Bears have rushed 39 times for 157 yards per game, while passing 32 times per game for 198 yards; the Colts have rushed 33 times per game for 138 yards, while passing 40 times per game for 246 yards. Stretch back to the regular season and note that Chicago averaged 205 yards passing and 120 yards rushing per contest; Indianapolis averaged 269 yards passing and 110 yards rushing. Deep strike? Bernard Berrian of the Bears had as many catches of 40 yards or more as Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined. These numbers show a passing edge for Indianapolis, but not an overwhelming differential.

TMQ Cheat Sheet
This week: Gregg Easterbrook on ...

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Cheerleader of the week
The 1,981.48-second item
In Parcells' defense ...
Non-QB Non-RB MVP
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Raiders locker room now homeroom
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TMQ Super forecast

Now think back four years ago to the Bucs-Raiders Super Bowl. Oakland came into that contest with a pass-wacky rep, but so did City of Tampa -- the Buccaneers had thrown 567 times and rushed 414 times in the regular season. All the commentators expected Tampa to air the ball out; instead the Bucs rushed more than they passed, and that was true before they pulled away. Recent history teaches us that back-to-basics game plans win the Super Bowl -- at the big dance, good offensive coordinators call lots of runs and good defensive coordinators call conventional defenses rather than blitzes. The Colts' no-huddle? You can run from a no-huddle -- and run well if you catch the defense with a nickel or dime package on the field, then hurry up to snap it against a light alignment. As for scoring, the Colts put up 427 points in the regular season -- and so, it seems, did the Bears. During the playoffs Chicago has a higher scoring average than Indianapolis, the Bears averaging 33 points per game and the Colts averaging 25 points.

As for the defenses, as noted by Aaron Schatz of Footballoutsiders.com, the Colts surrendered the most regular-season points, 360, of any team to reach the Super Bowl since 1978, when the season was expanded to 16 games and points-surrendered totals rose. Only one team since that season had a bad regular season in terms of points allowed and still won the Super Bowl, the 1983 Raiders. This regular season the Bears allowed only 255 points, a touchdown less per game than the Colts. This surely suggests Chicago is stronger on defense. But in the playoffs, Chicago has allowed an average of 19 points while Indianapolis has allowed an average of 16 points, which sounds like the Colts' defense is peaking at the right time. Plus the further you advance in the playoffs, the more effective not blitzing becomes. Consider the defending champion. During the regular season, Pittsburgh blitzed on 32 percent of opposition downs, the highest figure in the league. The Steelers' blitzing numbers fell steadily during the postseason. Pittsburgh blitzed 10 times on 77 Seattle downs in the Super Bowl -- that 13 percent was actually a little lower than the league-wide average for blitzing. And the Colts are going to the Super Bowl as a team that rarely blitzes.

Which leaves it tempting to say that conventional wisdom is backward: The Bears are the offensive team and the Colts are the defensive team, and Indianapolis will feature the run against a Bears defense that has spent two weeks practicing for bombs away. Then again, if the Colts do as expected and go pass-wacky, just remember my column motto is: All predictions wrong or your money back.

But perhaps it's all in the hands of the football gods. TMQ has long called the Chicago team the Ming Ding Xiong, "Bears whose outcomes are decided by fate" in Chinese. I've long called the Indianapolis team the Lucky Charms, owing to their horseshoes. When fate meets luck, the gods must decide.

In other football news, this weekend the next Hall of Fame class will be announced. For years TMQ has contended that the glam-heavy nature of the Hall of Fame -- Canton has 47 modern-era quarterbacks and running backs versus 30 modern-era offensive linemen, even though there ought to be more offensive linemen than offensive backs -- must be rectified by selecting only offensive linemen until the numbers reach rough parity. Based on that premise, this year Canton should take Russ Grimm, Gene Hickerson, Bob Kuechenberg, Bruce Matthews and Gary Zimmerman, the offensive linemen on the finalists list. Year in and year out, the Hall of Fame selectors clap for quarterbacks and running backs while slighting other positions. In 2005, for example, the entire Canton class was quarterbacks, even though scientists believe only one of the 22 gentlemen on the field during a football contest is a quarterback. The Hall of Fame selectors appear to be honoring players based on how much publicity they received, while they're indifferent to the fact that 90 percent of the action in football occurs away from the ball. Seven of the past 14 Hall of Famers chosen were quarterbacks!

Of the current finalists, Matthews must be first-ballot and Thurman Thomas must be admitted, as he should have been first-ballot last year. Beyond that you can flip coins, since all the gentlemen on the current list belong in garish yellow jackets. Because football is a team game involving large numbers of players, I think the Hall of Fame should take around 10 entrants per year, but that's another argument I lose. There is already a backlog of two dozen players, coaches and executives who should be admitted; at the current pace of about five admitted per class, the backlog gets steadily worse. Defenders of the current system say the Baseball Hall of Fame takes two or three per class, and football teams field twice as many players as baseball teams, therefore four to six is right for the NFL. But baseball is an individualistic sport where a player can be good regardless of the performance of teammates. Football is the ultimate group sport; we're all in it together. This argues for lots of football Hall of Famers, so that individuals are not excessively singled out for team accomplishments. I actually think one reason the selectors choose as few per year as they do is that the induction ceremony is held outside in midafternoon August sun, and grinds on and on as it is. Well, enact a rule that each player's acceptance speechifying is limited to 20 minutes, rather than the current hour or so they receive.

Given that Thurman Thomas is a Canton lock, the Bills' woe-for-four Super Bowl unit will have Jim Kelly, Marv Levy and Thomas in the Hall of Fame, with Bruce Smith a first-ballot lock once he's eligible and Andre Reed, Steve Tasker and Kent Hull worthy candidates. Buffalo's almost-champions might end up with more representatives in the Hall of Fame than most Super Bowl-winning squads. Tasker, in particular, deserves recognition. There is no special-teams player in Canton, though one-third of field position is determined by kicking teams. If Tasker isn't worthy of the Hall of Fame, then no special-teams performer will ever be admitted -- are you OK with that? While the Canton selectors endlessly laud quarterbacks and running backs, they exhibit no appreciation for the role special teams plays in football success. Special-teamers aren't glam-and-hype types, and that takes us back to the superficiality of the choices. Some Canton selectors really know their football, others are posers. When they act as a committee, the result is often lowest-common-denominator decisions.

The upcoming selectors' meeting will be their first since O.J. Simpson all but confessed, attaching his name to a book describing what it "would" have felt like for him to cut the throat of a young woman. It is revolting that the NFL still has not removed Simpson's name and image from a place where the honorable are honored. No innocent man falsely accused of murdering his ex-wife and the good man who ran to her aid could lend his name to a book of sadistic filth describing what he "would" have experienced committing the murders. Simpson's disgrace is his own. The National Football League is now disgraced by refusing to act -- Commissioner Goodell, disgrace is the word for your inaction regarding Simpson. Roger, stop hiding in your office with the door closed and do something! Now the Canton selectors have their chance to act regarding Simpson, and TMQ doesn't want to hear them whimper about how somebody else should face this problem because it's unpleasant. Do something about it! Make the removal unanimous. Hall of Fame selectors, this is your man-or-mouse moment with the Simpson issue.

And in other football news, this is that deeply annoying week between the championship games and the Super Bowl, when there is no football on television. This week is deeply annoying, not so much because you have to wait for the final act -- I can last another V days till kickoff at VI:XXV ET -- but because the week foreshadows what lies ahead, namely seven months without football. The horror, the horror. To tide you over, below I hand out the coveted "longest award in sports," the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP. This year there's an actual trophy, engraved with the correct spelling! Plus below I muse on the phoniness of NFL contracts and the absurdity of tenths and hundredths of seconds in sports.

Cheerleader of the Week: Pamela of the Minnesota Vikings, in this case nominated by me, because I met her last week. I was speaking to a group of Carleton College upperclassmen studying in Washington, and Pamela was one of them. Carleton is among the country's most selective colleges; it's not every day you bump into NFL cheerleaders with the SAT scores for Carleton. Pamela is a poli sci major with a minor in Japanese and, according to her team bio, her goal is to become a Supreme Court justice. I'd bet on her if I were you -- take Pamela for the Supreme Court and give the points! In addition to being glamorous she's wicked smart, and it's not every day you meet wicked smart NFL cheerleaders. Also, she told me that among NFL cheerleaders it is prestigious to be named TMQ Cheerleader of the Week. If only I'd known, I would have been accepting bribes! Maybe I should start auctioning off this distinction on eBay.

I Wrote This Item In 1,981.48 Seconds: Tuesday Morning Quarterback rails against the ridiculous sports fad of not only having tenths of seconds showing on the clock, but officials and announcers actually debating how many tenths of seconds something took. Human senses cannot perceive tenths of seconds! Timekeepers' reflexes are not fast enough for tenths of seconds! Anyway, here is my collection of examples of absurd tenths of seconds in sports in recent memory:

In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, at the end of the first half, the ball went out of bounds with 1.6 seconds showing. Referee Bennett Salvatore confidently instructed the timekeeper to change the clock to 2 seconds. Bennett Salvatore cannot possibly sense four-tenths of a second!

In overtime of the Villanova-Boston College game of the 2006 NCAA men's basketball tournament, 3.5 seconds showed as remaining. A Villanova player caught the inbounds, took a step and scored a basket. Then the clock showed 2.3 seconds. It's pretty hard to believe you can catch the ball, take a step and score a basket in 1.2 seconds -- remember, this must include time for the ball to go through the hoop. Anyway, officials huddled, looked at replays and confidently reset the game clock to 3 seconds. Not only were the officials declaring themselves able to sense eight-tenths of a second -- the time it takes to snap your fingers -- they were saying the Villanova player caught a pass, took a step and scored a basket in only half a second!

At the end of overtime in the George Mason-Connecticut game in the same tournament, officials huddled and confidently changed the clock from 7.1 to 7.3 seconds. These officials could sense a mere fifth of a second!

After Game 3 of the NBA Finals, which went down the wire, the NBA declared that a timing error caused 0.9 seconds too much to run off the clock. Thank goodness it wasn't a one-second error, only nine-tenths of a second.

Two years ago, the Lakers won an NBA playoff game against the Spurs on a play that started with just 0.4 seconds remaining. Los Angeles guard Derek Fisher ran toward the ball, caught it in the air, came down on both feet facing away from the basket, turned around and then launched the shot -- all in less than half a second, according to officials who ruled the shot good. (The final shot of a basketball period can count so long as it leaves the player's hand before the clock expires.) The Knicks beat Charlotte in December 2006 when David Lee scored on a tip-in that began with 0.1 seconds on clock. Lee tipped a lob pass into the basket; according to the officials, he did this in less than one-tenth of a second!

In last week's Clemson-Duke men's basketball game, Duke hit two free throws to take a 66-61 lead with 12.7 seconds showing. The game ended with Duke winning 68-66 -- not only were seven points scored in less than 13 seconds, the teams changed ends twice. Clemson took the inbounds and ran down the floor for a layup, then stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer. Then Duke took the inbounds and ran the floor in the opposite direction to hit the winning layup at the buzzer, a Duke ballhandler faking around a defender and completing a pass during the sequence. The finish sure was entertaining, and spectators attend sports events to be entertained. But it's just not possible all this happened in 12.7 seconds. After the Clemson 3, the clock showed 1.8 seconds. Officials huddled and changed that to 4.4 seconds. Not only does this require you to believe that the officials who worked the Clemson-Duke game are able to sense tenths of seconds, it requires you to believe Clemson only needed 8.3 seconds to take an inbounds pass, run the length of the floor, hit a layup, steal an inbounds pass, launch a 3-point attempt and for the ball to fly a long arc and pass through the hoop.

In the Dallas-Phoenix series of last spring's NBA playoffs, the Suns scored to take the lead with 0.5 seconds showing. Forget that there cannot, in any meaningful sense, actually be half a second remaining: it is inconceivable the timekeeper could be that accurate. Anyway, the Mavericks sailed their inbounds pass out of bounds without any player touching it. Now Phoenix has possession back with 0.5 seconds showing and a one-point lead. All the Suns' inbounds pass has to do is touch any player and the game should end. Surely it takes half a second for a basketball to make contact with a hand. In comes the pass, caught by the Suns' Tim Thomas. Dallas fouls Thomas, but that's irrelevant because the clock expired, right? The officials huddle, stare at replays, use telepathy to consult advanced space aliens who can manipulate the time-space continuum, and order the timekeeper to put 0.2 seconds back on the clock -- sending Thomas to the line and, after his free throws, giving the ball to Dallas for one last, wild inbounds pass as spectators streamed from the arena. By putting 0.2 seconds back on the clock, the officials not only ruled that it only took 0.3 seconds for Tim Thomas to catch a basketball, they ruled that they could sense the difference between half a second and a third of a second.

All those examples are from basketball. Football officials do not use tenths of seconds -- but with many football scoreboard clocks now showing tenths, even in high school, how long until the absurdity of arguing about tenths of seconds extends to football too? While football doesn't count tenths during games, the sport is guilty of an equal absurdity: arguing about hundredths of seconds in dash times. To wit:

The Miami Herald said receiver Chad Jackson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 at the combine. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN said it was actually a 4.37. John Clayton of ESPN.com, February 2006: "The 4.49 dash time of Colorado wide receiver Jeremy Bloom was impressive because he had virtually no preparation. When he runs it again in a month, he can probably post a 4.4." That is, Clayton thought he could actually predict a player's performance down to nine-hundredths of a second. ESPN The Magazine ("Published on Earth the Planet") ran an article devoted to the topic of how linebacker James Farrior trains to "maintain the 4.58 speed that helped make him an All-Pro." Not 4.6 speed, 4.58 speed. Mike Florio of Profootballtalk.com wrote that, at the combine, the 40 time of UCLA tailback Maurice Jones-Drew "was adjusted downward from an unofficial 4.41 to an official 4.39 seconds." The time was adjusted by two-hundredths of a second! Two-hundredths of a second matters to atomic clocks, but is an amount of time utterly without meaning in human experience.

Sports Illustrated ran an article about the combine that listed multiple players with 40-yard and shuttle times to the hundredths of a second, including one player as having "turned in times of 4.69 and 4.66." Defensive back Trevis Coley of Southern Mississippi was listed as having run a "4.50" dash. Hey look coach, he's improved his dash time from 4.5 to 4.50! After Dee Webb of Florida ran a 4.41 at the combine, he ran a 4.38 in a private workout. The Tampa Tribune devoted an entire story to how this quicker finish "may help elevate Webb from a second-rounder to a mid-to-late first-rounder." Webb was chosen in the seventh round. Anyway, 4.38 is one half of 1 percent faster than 4.41.

And how fast is that Reggie Bush, anyway? The New Orleans Times-Picayune said Bush ran a 4.37 at the combine, while the New York Daily News said the time was 4.33. Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com said Bush was hand-timed at 4.41 and electronically timed at 4.37. Gil Brandt of NFL.com said that at USC's Pro Day, Bush had an electronically timed 4.33, and that electronic timing "adds about .08 of a second to the actual time. For instance, if someone ran the 40 in 4.50 seconds electronically timed, it really means he ran it in about 4.42 seconds." In "about" 4.42 seconds? Countered Profootballtalk.com: "Despite a report from Gil Brandt of NFL.com that Heisman winner Reggie Bush put up a 4.33 in Sunday's Pro Day workout, a league source tells us Bush was hand timed at 4.4." The Los Angeles Daily News declared, "NFL teams who hand-timed the races gave Bush times ranging from 4.41 to 4.44." Sports Illustrated: "Reggie Bush was a tad disappointed in running his 40 in 4.33 seconds." What, he expected a 4.32?

In Parcells' Defense, At Least This Time He Waited Till the Season Was Over to Quit -- New England Fans Will Get That Bill "Mr. Personality" Parcells waited three weeks after the Dallas season ended to quit on the Cowboys. When Parcells quit on the Giants in 1991 he waited three months after the team's Super Bowl win to announce his departure. In each case, Parcells did not inform his employers of his plans until after the desirable coaches on the market already had been hired by someone else. In April 1991, desperate for a coach, Jersey/A turned to the underwhelming Ray Handley. Right now the Cowboys, with February approaching and desperate for a coach, are thought to be gravitating toward Norv Turner, who's a nice guy but who is also still on the market because his career record is 59-83-1 (including playoffs). Parcells is no Hamlet figure who can't make up his mind -- there is zero evidence of that in his other behavior. Yet twice he has waited until well into the offseason to walk out on an employer. What's likely going on here is that Parcells wanted the Giants, and now the Cowboys, to have trouble finding someone to replace him. For a coach, business executive or government official with a runaway ego, the ideal outcome is that after he leaves a post, the organization goes downhill -- causing people to say, "Oh, if only Mr. Runaway Ego hadn't left!" At the Giants, Handley inherited a team that had just won the Super Bowl, and went 14-18 in the next two seasons. This caused people to say that Parcells must be a super-ultra genius, since the guy who replaced him did so poorly. Surely Parcells is hoping the Cowboys have a terrible season in 2007, causing people to proclaim they were better off with Parcells.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP Forty-one of the 45 winners of the Associated Press NFL MVP were either quarterbacks or running backs, and no offensive lineman has won the award. Obsession with offensive backs, to the exclusion of the many others on the field, extends from the Hall of Fame selectors to the Associated Press to the barrooms and living-room couches of America. Swimming against this tide, TMQ annually hands out the coveted "longest award in sports," the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP.

This year there is a huge innovation: the award actually comes with an expensive, good-looking trophy. Right now the trophy is on its way to Miami via TMQ Express -- When it absolutely, positively has to get there eventually -- in hopes the award will be handed to the winner. Big stipulation of my award: only players whose teams made the postseason are eligible. My feeling is that if you're going to carry the title "most valuable," you better have created some value. The finalists:

Jeff Saturday of the Colts speaks about winning the coveted TMQ
Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP award.

Flozell Adams, Dallas
Marques Colston, New Orleans
Brian Dawkins, Philadelphia
Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis
Matt Light, New England
Marcus McNeill, San Diego
Jamar Nesbit, New Orleans
Trevor Pryce, Baltimore
Asante Samuel, New England
Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis
Bart Scott, Baltimore
Lofa Tatupu, Seattle
William Thomas, Philadelphia
Brian Urlacher, Chicago
Mike Vrabel, New England
Brian Waters, Kansas City
Ty Warren, New England
Jamal Williams, San Diego

Second runner-up: Brian Urlacher. No NFL defender plays with both power and speed better than Urlacher. He meets runners at the line of scrimmage and he covers wide receivers deep. Half a dozen gents had legitimate claims to Player of the Year status on defense this season, and Urlacher was one. He's a little lower on my list than he might be only because he is already well known.

First runner-up: Asante Samuel. I took some flak earlier this season for calling him the NFL's best corner, but stand by that assessment. I seem to recall Samuel performing well in three playoff games while Champ Bailey was comfortably seated at home. New England's tremendous defensive performance -- second-best for points allowed -- was made possible partly by an extremely efficient secondary. For the past two seasons, losing Samuel would have hurt New England more than losing any other player except Tom Brady.

Winner: Jeff Saturday. This gentleman's game-winning block in the AFC Championship -- shoving outsized, No. 1-drafted defensive tackle Vince Wilfork halfway to the hash marks, allowing Joseph Addai to walk in standing up -- was arguably the single best block any football player has ever made. Jerry Kramer's winning block in the Ice Bowl? Saturday's was better: He didn't just move the man at the point of attack, he removed him. One reason the Indianapolis offense has been the league's leader so far in the young century is near-perfect center play. Undrafted out of college, Saturday is one of the best centers ever to snap a football, and is on course for first-ballot Hall of Fame admission. Now a word about the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP Curse, which quietly rivals the Sports Illustrated and Madden curses. Last year Walter Jones won this award, and a few days later his team lost the Super Bowl as Jones had his worst game of the season. Two years ago Troy Brown on New England won, and in the offseason, Brown was waived, though he later resigned. Three years ago the winner was Damien Woody of New England, who promptly departed the lofty Pats for lowly Detroit and has never played as well since. Four years ago Lincoln Kennedy won, and a few days later had a horrible outing as the Raiders were embarrassed in the Super Bowl. Five years ago Alan Faneca won, and a few days later had his worst game of the season as Pittsburgh lost to New England in the AFC title game. (I handed out the award earlier then.) My assumption is that the international media spotlight plus the nonstop mega-babes that naturally accompany winning the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP have a curse-inducing impact. Jeff Saturday -- be really, really careful around the hotel swimming pool in Miami this week, OK?

What Lies Beneath: Last week the British Medical Journal, a technical publication, released a survey in which physicians said sewers, not antibiotics or vaccines, were the greatest public health advance of the past two centuries. Those who live in the favored cities of the West should never take sanitation for granted. The construction of sewage systems in European and American cities, beginning in the late 19th century, dramatically lowered rates of disease, to say nothing of making cities more livable; lowered disease in turn helped Western nations grow more productive and affluent. Today much of the developing world is held back by the fact that its citizens are often sick, and thus not productive. Open conduits of sewage run down the streets of many large developing-world cities; raw sewage pours directly into the Ganges, where bathers are supposed to go for purification rites. In many developing nations the No. 1 need is clean water: clean drinking water, buried sewer systems and modern wastewater treatment plants. The United States appears to have wasted nearly $1 trillion in Iraq. That sum could have brought modern public sanitation to the 25 largest cities of the developing world, and made America the hero of the world's poor for generations.

While sewers are a wholly serious issue in public-health terms, recently they have become an absurdity in pop culture. Action films have long depended on protagonists crawling through air shafts to reach secret installations; the air shafts are gigantic, though the typical actual air shaft in an actual building is no more than a foot wide at the point it opens into a room. (My favorite air shaft scene occurred in the old Star Trek, when Kirk and Spock were thrown into an alien prison and escaped by popping the flimsy grating off the opening to an air shaft they could walk through -- this spacious, inviting air shaft attached to a prison cell.) Now gigantic sewers have become an action-cinema staple. In the television series "Angel," plodding spinoff series of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the good vampire Angel was able to go anywhere in Los Angeles during daylight by walking through the sewers, where he could stand up, hold conversations and never soil his trendy clothes. In Sci Fi Channel's recent "Project Viper," under a small California town, impossibly good-looking wisecracking secret agents chased a monster through sewers that were at least 10 feet high. The sewers seemed designed to carry the River Tethys, yet contained only a trickle of water. In "Mission Impossible III," Tom Cruise was able to sneak anywhere in the Vatican by moving through the sewers, which were gigantic, contained only a trickle of water, had a footpath, and also had doors that opened to any Vatican room. Sewers do not have doors that open into the rooms of buildings!

Proud Brother Note: TMQ's Official Older Brother, Frank Easterbrook, is Chief Judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court with jurisdiction over several Midwestern states. Seventh Circuit authority includes Illinois and Indiana -- that is, my brother has legal jurisdiction over both Super Bowl teams! Surely sports historians will note that this coming Sunday represents only the third time in Super Bowl history that teams from the same federal judicial circuit have met for the championship. Kansas City and Minnesota (Super Bowl IV) are both from the federal Eighth Circuit. San Francisco and San Diego (Super Bowl XXIX) are both from the federal Ninth Circuit. Some history buffs might claim that Super Bowl XXV, Giants versus Bills, involved two teams from the federal Second Circuit, based in New York; but only Buffalo fit that bill as New Jersey, home of the Giants, is in the federal Third Circuit. Given that Frank Easterbrook has legal jurisdiction over this year's Super Bowl teams, here is my advice to the Bears and the Colts. Knowing my brother, do yourselves a favor and don't break any laws, OK?

NBA Items in As Little Space as Possible: Reader Dave Scocca of Carrboro, N.C., notes the new NBA dress code prohibits shorts and sleeveless shirts "any time while on team or league business." He asks, "Does this imply that the process of playing an NBA game is not considered being on team or league business?" Reader Scott Bleiweis of Somerville, Mass., notes the Celtics finally have a hot-babes dance team. He recommends the diary of Celtics cheerleader Emily, hometown Torrance, Calif., who reports that Celtics dancers change costumes four times per game, which means a lot of bags to drag through the snow in January. Fortunately, the costumes are quite small!

Raiders' Locker Room To Be Renamed "Homeroom," Only Seniors Allowed to Leave the Stadium for Lunch: When the Raiders hired Jon Gruden at a tender age, TMQ dubbed him Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden. Now the Raiders have hired a coach so youthful he will be to this column Lane "Hey Mom, I Got My Learner's Permit" Kiffin. That Oakland had to reach for a 31-year-old with only a few years of experience as an assistant, and who has never been in charge of anything, shows that nobody, but nobody, wants to work for the once-proud Raiders franchise. Kiffin's USC bio: "In 2005, Lane was named one of the nation's Top 25 recruiters by Rivals.com." Eighteen months from recruiting high-school kids to being a head coach in the NFL! Everybody knows Al Davis is hard to work for. Since Davis fired Bill Callahan just one season after Callahan took the Raiders to the Super Bowl, only the down-on-their luck have even wanted the Oakland helm. Who's going to take this job after Davis fires Kiffin? Anyway, here are changes Lane "Hey Mom, I Got My Learner's Permit" Kiffin will institute next year at the Raiders:

• Homecoming dance for former players.
• Hall passes required during training camp.
• Two weeks of detention for anyone caught with beer.
• No running to the cafeteria.
• Players who appear in two or more games receive handsome embroidered "R" for their jackets.
• Cheerleaders must declare in their team bios if they are going steady.
• Kiffin and Randy Moss refuse to accept each other on FaceBook.

Hundredths of Seconds in the News: Last year the New York Times ran a strangely fascinating story about McDonald's using call centers to take drive-through orders. When drive-through customers talk into the disembodied box, often they are not talking to an order-taker in the store but one hundreds of miles away who transmits the order back to the restaurant via Internet. The goal? To save the 20 seconds in which the order-taker at the restaurant window does nothing while waiting for one car to pull away and the next to pull up. At the remote call center, the order-taker is switched immediately to whatever McDonald's has a car that just pulled up. A sign on the screen being used by the call-center worker flashes the time of day in the state the order taker is talking to for that moment. It's all pretty eerie, though presumably efficient. Anyway, the Times story declared of a call-center worker, "Software tracks her speed, and every so often a red box pops up on her screen to test whether she is paying attention. She is expected to click on the red box within 1.75 seconds." Within 1.75 seconds -- time-and-motion experts seriously believe they can break down human behavior into hundredths of second.

Cheerleaders Note: Though the cheerleaders traditionally travel with college teams, in the NFL only the home team's pep squad appears. The exception is the Super Bowl, at which both team's cheerleaders perform. When New England played Philadelphia in the Super Bowl two years ago in balmy Florida, one of the side dramas was a competition between the two cheerleading squads to see who could wear the least. Last year the Seattle-Pittsburgh Super Bowl pitted a team with cheerleaders against a team without, and the same will occur on Sunday, as the Colts have a cheer squad and the Bears do not. Chicago once had cheerleaders, but disbanded its Honey Bears squad after winning the 1986 Super Bowl, a team official saying at the time that the cheerleaders had gotten "too sexy." Now, seriously, a team wins the Super Bowl and then immediately disbands its cheerleading squad for the crime of being sexy -- how do you suppose the football gods felt about that? This may be a reason it's been 21 years since the Bears returned to the big dance.

ESPN Inks TMQ to 10-Year, $20 Million Contract: During the offseason, Shaun Alexander signed an "eight-year, $62 million" contract. NBC Sports headlined, "Seahawks make Alexander richest running back ever." The deal only assures Alexander of two years and $18 million -- heady enough, of course. This is a good example of the sports press cooperating in the fictional claims of NFL contracts. Since most NFL contracts contain no guarantees or are only partly guaranteed, it's the amount a player is assured of, not fictional paper value that will never be realized, that the sports press should report. But a $62 million deal sounds a lot more exciting and newsworthy than an $18 million deal. First overall draft pick Mario Williams signed a record deal that was reportedly as worth "$62 million." The Williams contract is about $26 million in guarantees, which is the deal's real value. New York Times headline: "Terrell Owens Says He Is Wiser, Then the Cowboys Make Him $25 Million Richer." But the deal, announced as worth $25 million, only guaranteed a little more than $10 million -- heady enough. The Cowboys wrote the contract to make it practical for them in salary-cap terms to waive Owens anytime after the first season.

Examples of inflated contract values abound in the NFL. Last offseason, Adam Archuleta signed a "six-year, $30 million" contract that assured him of about $11 million and one season; whether he will return to the Redskins for a second season is unclear. Julian Peterson signed a "seven-year, $54 million" contract with Seattle that assures him of two seasons and $17 million. LeCharles Bentley signed a "six-year, $36 million" agreement with the Browns agreement that assured him of two seasons and about $14 million. Will Witherspoon signed a "six-year, $33 million" contract with St. Louis that assured him of two seasons and about $15 million. The inflated-deal champion was kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who signed a "three-year, $5.4 million" contract with Dallas and was waived after nine months.

At work in fictional contract numbers is the desire of players to seem to have signed for far more than they know they will receive, and the desire of agents to create the appearance of landing a much bigger deal than actually arranged. Often this is accomplished by "back-loading" contracts with huge payments at the end -- though long before the end of the contract is reached, the player will have been waived or renegotiated. Last offseason, Chad Johnson signed a "six-year, $36 million" contract. Johnson's deal looks big on paper because it specifies that he receive about $11.5 million total in 2010 and 2011. No matter how well Johnson plays, there is no chance his deal still will be in force unaltered five seasons from now. He will have been waived or renegotiated long before then.

The current reigning King of the Inflated Contracts is Ty Law of Kansas City. In the winter of 2005, Law was with New England and called it a "a slap in the face" when the Pats offered him about $6 million for the coming season. Law was waived, and claimed victory when he signed with the Jets for what his agent announced was a blockbuster "seven-year, $50 million" contract. Law was waived by the Jets following the season; the "seven-year, $50 million" contract proved to be a one-year agreement that paid about $5 million. Law's "$50 million" was an unusually goofy example of making contracts seem bigger by back-loading fictional payments the player will never receive; much of the imaginary "$50 million" was listed as huge lump sums commencing in 2010, when Law will be 36 years old and unlikely to be taping his ankles for any club. After Law was waived by the Jets, he signed with Kansas City for what was announced as a "five-year, $30 million" contract. That deal only guaranteed one season and about $5 million. All told, in barely more than 12 months, Ty Law inked contracts with an announced total value of 12 years and $80 million. These agreements have actually run two years and paid about $10 million -- heady enough for chasing a ball.

And here's the funniest fictional contract escapade of recent years. Last winter, the Tennessee Titans' braintrust was faced with an odd contract clause that required the team to pay Steve McNair either $1 million or $50 million on the eve of free agency. Titans' managers scratched their heads, drummed on the table, gazed off into the distance, took long walks and finally decided that they would rather pay $1 million than $50 million. Attention Bank of Sweden! Maybe the Titans' front office should be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Economics. This puzzling clause was part of the fictional contract that enabled McNair's agent to announce, in 2004, that he had signed his client to a breathtaking "six-year, $100 million contract." In order for those numbers to be realized, Tennessee had to opt to pay him $50 million instead of $1 million in winter 2006 -- which was never terribly likely, was it? McNair changed employers to Baltimore, his "six-year, $100 million" contract ending up lasting two seasons and paying about $11 million. That is, 89 percent of the contract was fictional.

Unload Your Sorghum Futures, Buy Stocks: The Wall Street Journal predicted last week that the Bears-Colts Super Bowl pairing will cause the stock market to rise in 2007. Whenever a team in the original, premerger NFL wins the Super Bowl, the market usually rises that year; whenever a former AFL team or expansion team wins the Super Bowl, the market usually declines. This indicator has held for 32 of the 40 Super Bowls thus far. Because the Bears play the Colts, an original-NFL victory is assured; the Indianapolis Colts were in the original premerger NFL as the Baltimore Colts.

Upon Further Review: Last week TMQ said it was about time New England was called for defensive pass interference in the playoffs -- the second-half flag that put the Colts' on the Flying Elvii 1-yard line was one of the major downs of the AFC Championship. Now many contend the call was wrong. Was New England's Ellis Hobbs flagged for contact or for face-guarding -- blocking the receiver's view while not turning to play the ball? My impression was the call was face-guarding. But as pointed out by readers, including Judith Cohn of Jacksonville, Fla., the rulebook was revised several years ago and face-guarding, for decades illegal in the NFL, is now allowed. The relevant definition is at 8, 2, 5, in the NFL rulebook: "A defensive player beyond the line has his back to the ball during a forward pass. He makes no attempt to catch it but waves his arms in close proximity to an eligible opponent. There is no contact with the receiver. No foul -- legal action by the defender." So unless Hobbs made contact he should not have been flagged. But to that point the Pats and Colts had played 11 consecutive postseason quarters without a defensive interference penalty against New England -- the football gods owed the Colts one!

I admit I had no idea face-guarding had become legal. This makes me wonder, do NFL defensive backs know? Often you see defenders who have no play on the ball nevertheless twist their heads around as the pass arrives, as if trying to avoid the face-guarding posture. Also, if face-guarding is now legal, why aren't defensive backs coached to hold their hands over the receiver's face as the pass approaches?

My Super Bowl Forecast: My forecast is: most points wins. Since the Bears flew to Miami early Sunday and the Colts did not touch down till late Monday, I think Chicago has a better chance than recognized: my unscientific indicator holds that arriving first at the Super Bowl improves the odds of victory. (More time to get acclimated and let the glamour wear off, etc.) Then again, Indianapolis has a chance too. I never know what to say when people ask me who's going to win the Super Bowl, since I haven't got the slightest idea -- and neither does anybody else.

Reader Animadversion: Got a complaint or a deeply held grievance? Write me at TMQ_ESPN@yahoo.com. Include your real name and the name of your hometown, and I may quote you by name unless you instruct me otherwise. Note: giving your hometown improves your odds of being quoted.

Next Week: That Super Bowl thing you might have heard about.

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here.