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Monday, October 1, 2007
Updated: October 4, 3:44 PM ET
Come clean, Marino and Aaron!

By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Sunday afternoon against the Vikings, Brett Favre broke Dan Marino's all-time NFL touchdown pass record, and immediately the Metrodome video screen lit up with a recorded message of Marino congratulating the Green Bay quarterback. When Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, a congratulatory message from Aaron promptly played. Sunday night, Michael Strahan broke Lawrence Taylor's all-time Giants sack record; Taylor was there on the sideline, smiling and waving.

It's nice that these sports greats are so gracious about their records being broken. But do you believe for one minute that they really mean it? Every sports record-holder must be thinking, "Turn your ankle, come down with mono, get swept up in a gambling bust, quit the high life to perform volunteer work in New Orleans. Haven't you got something better to do than break my record?" Here is Aaron's congratulatory message to Bonds. The words are the right ones, but he delivers the message as if someone just off camera is holding a gun to his head. I'd bet dollars to donuts -- a real Canadian expression! -- that Aaron is furious about Bonds. Marino can't be thrilled about Favre, either.

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And why should they be? It would seem perfectly natural to say, "That's my record, and I hope to keep it." Sportsmanship requires that you wish your opponent good fortune; sportsmanship does not require that you wish your opponent surpass you. There would be nothing hostile about hoping someone near your record doesn't break it, just as you'd hope someone wouldn't take away your job or girlfriend or boyfriend. To congratulate another athlete who breaks your record might be realistic: The record is gone anyway, so you might as well be admired for munificence. But we shouldn't kid ourselves that athletes really mean it when they smile and wave at those who take their records.

There was one star athlete who did not engage in this ritual: Jim Brown. In the early 1980s, as Walter Payton and Franco Harris approached the NFL all-time rushing record he then held, Brown made no pretense of rooting for them. "He can break the record at his convenience because he has the cooperation of his organization," Brown said of Harris. "That's not a feat by my standards. It has nothing to do with overall performance." When Harris was shown the door by Pittsburgh and signed for a final stat-padding season with Seattle, Brown openly derided him. As Payton dragged out his career, Brown sniped that Sweetness was "just hanging around" to break his record. At one point, Brown, who was approaching age 50, threatened to return to the NFL to improve his numbers if Payton or Harris got the record -- and Jim Brown being Jim Brown, he might have pulled it off. Today, Brown is down to eighth all-time in rushing, and as far as I could determine, he never has pretended not to be ticked off about it. Brown still holds the all-time record for yards per carry at 5.2 and is the sole rusher in NFL history to average more than 100 yards per game. I think it would be just as well if no one ever threatened those marks.

In world news, there's a harmonic convergence of golden anniversaries in progress. The upcoming 50th anniversary of Sputnik joins the 50th anniversaries of the Edsel, "West Side Story" and the publication of "Doctor Zhivago." As the Sputnik anniversary arrives, bear in mind what a bucket of bolts the first artificial satellite was -- little more than a radio transmitter, it looked like something a 16-year-old made in metal shop for a school play. America's Explorer I, which followed Sputnik I into orbit a few months later, was also a bucket of bolts. Although even with its rudimentary instruments and vacuum tubes -- remember, humanity landed on the moon before the invention of the pocket calculator -- Explorer I discovered the Van Allen belts. And of course the Edsel was a bucket of bolts, an odd snoot being the least of its problems.

Although the great technical achievement of 1957 -- the artificial satellite -- and the main consumer-industrial product of that year -- the Edsel -- seem crude in retrospect, great artistic achievements of that same year, such as "West Side Story" and "Doctor Zhivago," seem magnificent in retrospect. You have to know the history of Broadway musicals to understand what an original and significant work Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" was, although you need not know that history to appreciate the music, lyrics and dialogue. "Doctor Zhivago" numbers among the greatest books ever written, and that's even if you can't grasp how much better the poetry sounds in Russian, as Russian speakers assure us. Boris Pasternak summed up all his experiences in the dashed hopes of the Russian Revolution in the tragic story of a poet who loses his muse-love. Pasternak then declined the Nobel Prize for literature because, being a critic of the Kremlin, he knew he would never be allowed back into the Soviet Union if he went to Sweden to accept the prize. And, like Zhivago, he died too soon, passing away just two years after the book was published. "Doctor Zhivago" became an international bestseller -- When was the last time the top-selling book of the year was great literature? -- and was made into one of the last really good Hollywood movies, three hours long and actually faithful to the book! (On buying a book, Hollywood's first move today is to alter everything except the title; Mel Gibson even altered the gospels and invented composite characters for his Jesus movie, Gibson figuring he had a better sense of story than God.)

Now think what has happened in technical and artistic trends in the 50 years since 1957. Scientific endeavors have made fantastic strides in quality, complexity and significance. Consumer product quality has increased dramatically -- new cars are packed with features unknown in 1957 yet are far safer and more reliable, and the cell phone in your pocket and the computer you're reading this on, to say nothing of the Internet it's transmitted over, would have been viewed as supernatural by the engineers who built Explorer I. At the same time, the quality of art has plummeted. There hasn't been a musical of artistic merit to open on Broadway in many moons -- right now, it's all vapid dreck. (In fact, I think the show "Vapid Dreck," based on a remake of a remake, opens at the Brooks Atkinson soon.) And although good books are still written, what truly great novel has been produced in the past decade or two? Fifty years ago, technical stuff was buckets of bolts and art was splendid; now, the technical stuff is splendid and the art is in poor repair. This tells us something -- I just wish I knew what.

In other football news, the Saints and Chargers are doomed, doomed! Sports Illustrated predicted New Orleans would win the Super Bowl, and ESPN The Magazine predicted San Diego would win it. These teams are a combined 1-6, and the recent history of Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Mag endorsements suggests their seasons are already over. In 2005, Sports Illustrated said Carolina would win the Super Bowl -- then in 2006, Sports Illustrated said Miami would win it. In 2005, The Mag said Minnesota would take the Lombardi; in 2006, that Miami would. Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine are on a combined 0-4 streak in predicting Super Bowls, and three of their four predicted Super Bowl winners did not even make the playoffs. Not a good omen for New Orleans and San Diego.

And in cultural news, "Friday Night Lights" returns to television Friday -- although weirdly at 9 p.m., when, presumably, much of its fan base will be out at actual high school games. Will Lyla, Riggins and Jay -- who were seniors in last season's episodes -- mysteriously still be attending Dillon High? Will SuperCoach really have arrived in Dillon, immediately won the state championship, then left? Will the Panthers actually play a full slate of games? (Last season, Dillon won the state title with a record of 11-2; you must appear in 16 games to reach the Texas prep championship.) Will Dillon face Northwestern of Miami? Will there be more football scenes than relationship talk? Despite its absurd moments -- last season, almost every game sequence had Dillon winning on a length-of-the-field touchdown on the final play -- "Friday Night Lights" is terrific stuff, plus it's pretty much the Official TV Show of Page 2 at this point. There isn't much on television that can be called terrific. If you haven't checked out FNL, now is the time.

Stat of the Week No. 1: Detroit scored more points in a quarter, 34, than all but three teams (Colts, Cowboys and Patriots) scored in their entire games.

Stat of the Week No. 2: Since Sports Illustrated predicted that Miami would win the Super Bowl, the Dolphins are 6-14.

Stat of the Week No. 3: Devin Hester has fielded 93 kicks in his career and run eight back for touchdowns.

Stat of the Week No. 4: The Eagles scored 53 fewer points than in their previous game.

Stat of the Week No. 5: Carolina has lost its past three home games by a combined score of 91-31.

Stat of the Week No. 6: Chicago and San Diego, bye teams in this past January's playoffs, are on a combined 2-8 streak.

Stat of the Week No. 7: Three cellar-dwellers of 2006 -- Detroit (114 points), Cleveland (109) and Oakland (102) -- have outscored last season's highest-scoring team, San Diego (68).

Stat of the Week No. 8 The Bears, Chargers and Niners -- all forecast as playoff teams going into the season -- are on a combined 4-10 run, and those teams were outscored Sunday by a combined 72 points.

Stat of the Week No. 9: Dallas has scored 107 points in the second half -- more than 26 teams have scored the entire season.

Stat of the Week No. 10: Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, playing as an extra tight end, has caught nine touchdown passes in his career.

Cheerleader of the Week: Things might not be going well with the Dolphins -- the weather might even have turned against this team -- but all is always well with their high-aesthetic-appeal pep squad, one of the largest in the NFL -- and the more cheer-babes, the merrier. According to her team bio, Cara of the Dolphins' cheerleaders was born in Boston -- I sense a Belichick conspiracy here, I just haven't quite nailed down the specifics yet -- and has a degree in dance and world culture from UCLA.

Sweet Play of the Week: Detroit leading Chicago 24-20 and thus far having scored only 21 points in the fourth quarter, the Lions lined up in a power-I on the Bears' 5. An extra tight end came in motion left, then set left, which usually means a power run left. Kevin Jones ran right behind a beautiful pull block from left guard Jonathan Scott -- touchdown, and a points record in the making.

Sweet Series of the Week: Dallas and St. Louis tied at 7 with 56 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Cowboys' ball at midfield, a bad snap soared over Tony Romo's head and rolled to the Dallas 17. Romo scooped up the rock and, rather than throw it away or take the sack, danced through Rams defenders to the St. Louis 46, getting credit for a 37-yard rush from the statistician. Seeing the ball rolling around far in the Dallas backfield, rather than salivate, St. Louis defenders seemed to relax -- good as Romo's athletic play was, the St. Louis defenders' performance was as bad. Soon, it's still 7-7 with 16 seconds until intermission and Dallas on the St. Louis 15, facing third-and-10, holding a timeout. What St. Louis must do is keep Dallas out of the end zone; do that, and the next snap will be a field goal attempt. Romo lined up in the (what else?) shotgun spread, scanned the field, then simply ran straight up the middle for the touchdown with no St. Louis defender anywhere in sight in the center of the field. My 12-year-old, Spenser, and I watched the play three times trying to locate the St. Louis defenders. Four rushed, seven dropped, they had only 15 yards to defend and knew the play had to go to the end zone -- yet no St. Louis defender was anywhere in the picture as Romo went straight up the middle for the score.

Dallas note: Surely Bill Parcells was hoping the Cowboys would collapse so people would say, "Look what happened after Parcells left." Instead Wade Phillips is the NFL's SuperCoach of the moment. Not only are the Boys rolling, but San Diego's defense is sputtering without Phillips as its coordinator.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All: Trailing 17-7 at Atlanta, Houston faced fourth-and-1 near midfield. Run, and there's an 80 percent chance of conversion. Instead, Texans' coaches called a pass into the flat for sloooow-moving blocking back Vonta Leach, no gain. Passing deep on fourth-and-1 to attempt a home run makes sense. Throwing a dinky-dorky thing to the fullback in the flat in hopes of gaining 3 yards is nonsense compared with simply rushing.

Sweet 'N' Sour Tactics: At Indianapolis, Denver opened with three tight ends on the field and just pounded the ball in the first quarter, controlling the tempo and rushing for an initial 10-0 lead. That was sweet. But to thine own tactics be true! Leading 10-7 in the second quarter, the Cursors reached fourth-and-2 at the Colts' 4. Sure it's early, and a field goal makes it a six-point lead. But the Colts are the defending champions playing on the home turf, and you can't dance with the champ, you must knock him down. To that moment, the Broncos had rushed 18 times for 132 yards, a 7.3 yards-per-carry average, so going for it was attractive -- and if The Ultimate Leader had gone for it, he would have told his players he was challenging them to win the game. That sounds like Ultimate Leadership! By launching the field goal, Mike Shanahan told his team he was playing not to lose, and I barely need add Indianapolis took the kickoff and flew down the field the other way for a 14-13 lead.

The Broncos' defensive line still looks average after yet another total makeover, putting no pressure on Peyton Manning while allowing 226 yards rushing by the champs. Jay Cutler is surely a promising quarterback, but bear in mind -- last season, Denver was 7-4 and had the inside track to a playoff berth when The Ultimate Leader benched Jake Plummer. Since then, under Cutler, the Broncos are 4-5. As for the Colts, Spenser said, "They know what they're doing, don't they?"

Sour Series of the Week: Trailing 30-16 at home, the Chargers reached first-and-goal on the Chiefs' 5 with four minutes remaining. Did the Chargers, the NFL's best power-rushing team in 2006, blessed with future Hall of Fame tailback LaDainian Tomlinson -- who had 20 carries for 132 yards to that point -- pound, pound, pound for the likely touchdown? San Diego went incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, incompletion: Kansas City ball, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Tomlinson was by himself in the right flat on third down, and Philip Rivers looked at him but, inexplicably, did not throw. Regardless of that foul-up, San Diego needed to punch the ball forward just 5 yards to pull within one score with home-crowd energy on its side -- and didn't even try a single run. Marty Schottenheimer was 14-3 coaching the Chargers last season; Norv Turner is 1-3 with virtually the same personnel. Spectators at Qualcomm Stadium, which might need to be renamed Quaalude Stadium if things get any worse, were chanting "MAR-ty! MAR-ty!" When he was in the house, didn't the same crowd complain about Martyball?

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Score Kansas City 23, San Diego 16, early in the fourth quarter, the Bolts had the Chiefs facing third-and-19 at midfield. All the Chargers need to do is play straight defense, and the odds favor a stop. Instead, it's a seven-man blitz! Easy 51-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe, and suddenly Wade Phillips looks even better.

Propitious Timeout: Leading 10-7, Buffalo faced fourth-and-goal on the Jersey/B 1-yard line with seven minutes remaining. Dick Jauron sent in the field goal unit, although a touchdown try would seem called for here: A touchdown makes the Bills' chances excellent; a field goal still allows the Jets to win with a touchdown; and a failed fourth-down attempt leaves the visitors pinned against their goal line. As the Buffalo kicking team took its positions, holder Brian Moorman noted the play clock was nearly expired and called timeout. I thought, "Why use a timeout if you're planning to kick, just take the penalty and kick from the 6." During the timeout, Jauron decided to go for it; sweet-looking rookie quarterback Trent Edwards threw the touchdown pass that proved the winning points in a game that ended Buffalo 17, Jersey/B 14.

Bills note 1: Leading 17-14 with less than three minutes to play, the Ivies faced third-and-short and threw incomplete, stopping the clock. At the end, the Jets reached the Buffalo 38 before turning the ball over on a desperation play. Had the Bills simply run up the middle for no gain on their final snap, the clock would have expired with the Jets far from Buffalo territory.

Bills note 2: Ye gods is Bristol relieved that Buffalo won. Next week's "Monday Night Football" pairs Dallas at Buffalo, which would have been a clunker had the Bills gone in 0-4. Now the game offers an appealing story line -- undefeated Cowboys versus "surging" Bills, Romo versus sweet-looking Edwards, the league's only rookie starting quarterback.

Before Reading TMQ, You Must Click "I Accept" to a Disclaimer Warning of Endless Repetition of Nonfalsifiable Theories About Punting, Blitzing and Cheerleader Professionalism: Last week, many owners of the iPhone, whose value is falling faster than American housing -- "iPhones now on sale for 20 cents," a mall announcer said in the background of the latest "Simpsons" episode -- were dismayed to realize that downloading the latest software update from Apple permanently disabled their phones. Apple planned it that way! It seems iPhone buyers had been using patches and switch resetting to circumvent the electronic lock intended to prevent the phone from working with any carrier other than AT&T. This people-oriented approach seems like exactly what the Old Apple would have encouraged. But the New Apple seems to want to become the Old Microsoft, so the company decided to punish its own customers. When Apple offered a software update for the iPhone, buried in the disclaimer was a warning that if you had unlocked your iPhone to dial in a service other than AT&T, the software update would permanently ruin the phone. No one would ever click "I Accept" if aware that clicking "I Accept" would destroy his or her property! Apparently, Apple not only assumed that no one ever actually reads corporate disclaimers but was hoping no one would actually read the disclaimer.

Sour Overall Performance of the Week: I was going to switch Philadelphia's nickname from the Nesharim to the Angry Parakeets if they kept wearing yellow and bright blue and running wild. After Sunday night, maybe they should just be the Cute Little Budgies. Sure, Philadelphia had injuries; in the NFL, everybody has injuries. Philadelphia coaches called 47 passing plays (attempts, sacks and scrambles) that netted just 114 yards, or 2.4 yards gained per called pass, and that was against a Jersey/A defense that had been allowing 31 points per game. The record 12 sacks surrendered by the Philadelphia offensive line were doubly horrendous considering that these guys must protect Donovan McNabb's bad knee; if it goes again, so goes the season. On the game's final, ignominious sack, with 2:24 remaining and Philadelphia still alive at the Giants' 24, left tackle Winston Justice barely bothered to brush Osi Umenyiora before turning around to do nothing as his man hammered McNabb. Two years ago, Justice was being touted as a potential lottery-level draft pick. After Sunday night, he might be looking for work in the CFL soon.

A Cosmic Thought: Recently, astronomers affiliated with the European Southern Observatory discovered the first reasonably Earth-like planet beyond the solar system. The planet, which orbits a red star called Gliese 581, is similar in size to Earth and the correct distance from its sun for liquid water. All previous "extrasolar" planets located by astronomers are either gas giants similar to Jupiter or are so close to their stars as to be perpetually boiling or so far away as to be frozen. Researchers have long assumed that Earth-like planets will prove common, but only in the past decade have instruments and techniques been developed that allow detection of planets at great distances. Now, the first Earth-like world outside the solar system has been found, and surely it won't be the last. The unnamed planet is 20 light-years away, close in galactic terms, considering the Milky Way is roughly 100,000 light-years across. The Milky Way is thought to contain several billion star systems with conditions akin to those found in our solar system or in the Gliese 581 system. (The total number of stars in the Milky Way is vastly higher, but most are in regions that appear hostile to our kind of life.) If it turns out Earth-like worlds occur in, say, 1 percent of the star systems similar to ours, the Milky Way could contain millions of planets similar to Earth.

That leads to any number of cosmic thoughts. First, if our world of fewer than 200 nations cannot govern itself, imagine a Galactic Senate representing 10 million constituencies! But if there are millions of Earth-like worlds in the Milky Way, why don't we pick up radio signals from them? Determined, systematic searches for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence have yielded nothing -- no indication that there is any artificial radio source anywhere in the galaxy except on Earth. Of course, other civilizations might be attempting to mask their presence or using something other than radio. But radio is such a cheap, effective means of communication that it's hard to believe there are other civilizations out there and nobody at all uses radio. Searches for other artificial forms of electromagnetism, such as lasers and masers, also have yielded nothing, as have searches for the spectral signature of artificial atomic fission or fusion.

The apparent absence of artificial radio transmission in the galaxy suggests that intelligent life, at least in its technological stage, might be rare. Regardless whether we owe our existence to divine offices or natural forces, if there are millions of Earth-like worlds, you'd think either God or evolution would have put thinking beings in many places. Have other intelligent beings come into existence, only to wipe themselves out with war or evolve beyond the physical? Perhaps intelligent life takes a very long time to arise, then rapidly either destroys itself or ascends to a higher plane. After all, it was 3 million years from Lucy in the Olduvai Gorge to controlled agriculture, then 7,000 years from controlled agriculture until Guglielmo Marconi sent the first high-powered, long-distance radio signal, then a mere 60 years 'til the United States and former Soviet Union possessed doomsday arsenals sufficient to end human life. Perhaps across the vastness of time there are only brief intervals in which civilizations exist in the technological phase -- transmitting radio and television signals, launching spacecraft, and searching for others who are doing the same. Right now, we're transmitting like crazy and firing rockets as fast as they can be built. Maybe a thousand centuries ago another civilization on a nearby world was doing as we do now, then either destroyed itself or evolved beyond such concerns. Maybe a thousand centuries hence, a civilization will arise in the Gliese 581 star system but find no evidence of us because by then humanity will either be extinct or have chosen to leave corporeal limits behind.

On the other hand -- and this is one of my favorite cosmic thoughts -- what if we are the first? The cosmos appears to be about 14 billion years old. Owing to that imposing age, we assume Homo sapiens must be latecomers. But compared to itself, creation is just having its morning coffee; present evidence suggests the universe will continue to exist for at least hundreds of billions of years, maybe forever. If natural forces account for life, perhaps 14 billion years needed to pass before the first intelligence arose; if God is running the show, who can say what the divine timetable calls for? At any rate, if we are the first, an entire galaxy awaits -- ours to ruin or make flower. The galaxy above holds essentially infinite resources. An eon hence, countless worlds might be home to our descendants, beings so diverged from the men and women of today that it would be hard for observers of the future to believe all owe their ancestry to a common source.

None of this will matter to you and me, of course. I chuckled when a New York Times report about the Earth-like world now labeled Gliese 581d quoted, credulously, a Harvard astronomer saying, "It's 20 light-years away. We can go there." The gullible Times writer appeared not to realize the astronomer was playing off the signature line -- "We can go there!" -- of the pilot for the sci-fi series "Stargate Atlantis." With current technology, 20 light-years might as well be the opposite side of the universe.

The fastest manmade object, the deep-space probe Pioneer 10, which was launched in 1972 and has passed Pluto on its way out of the solar system, travels at about 10 miles per second. That's a minute fraction of the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second. A ship moving at the speed of Pioneer 10 would require half a million years to reach Gliese 581. So far, wormholes, space warps and hyperdrive exist solely in science fiction; in physics, there is no hint of a means around the light-speed barrier. Suppose someday advanced propulsion enables starships to attain 1 percent of light speed, which is the fastest massive natural objects have been observed moving. One percent of light speed might not sound like much, but is the velocity required to reach Mars in the time we now reach Paris, and it would open up the planets of our solar system to every imaginable shenanigan. Yet at 1 percent of light speed, orders of magnitude faster than Pioneer 10, a voyage to the Earth-like world circling Gliese 581 still would take 2,000 years. Unless there is something basic about cosmic physics that has not been guessed yet, travel to even relatively nearby star systems might always be extremely impractical.

Florida, Rutgers Punished by Football Gods: Every college season has an Upset Saturday, and it fell last weekend for 2007. Top-10 teams Florida and Rutgers were upset almost immediately after displaying poor sportsmanship by running up the score: Oh ye mortals, trifle not with the football gods. Reader Jeffrey Camp notes that against hapless Norfolk State, Rutgers showed terrible sportsmanship by calling all three of its timeouts in the final minute of the first half, frantically trying to score again before intermission -- although Rutgers was ahead 45-0 at the time. Camp asks, "Aren't Knights supposed to be honorable and chivalrous?" Reader Chris Shirley notes that when leading Tennessee 49-20 in the fourth quarter, Florida still had Tim Tebow on the field and still had him throwing deep; leading 52-20 with first-and-goal with less than two minutes remaining, Florida could have taken a knee to end the game, but instead, Urban Meyer had his charges pound the ball into the end zone to run up the final score to 59-20. As Tuesday Morning Quarterback often notes, running up the score is little-bully behavior that evinces lack of character. And it always comes back to haunt you because when the pressure is on, little bullies fold.

34 Points in a Quarter -- None Too Shabby: How did Detroit ring up an NFL-record 34 points in the fourth quarter? The quarter began with the Lions trailing 13-3, facing second-and-goal on the Bears' 4 and scoring on the first fourth-quarter snap. Three plays later, Rex Grossman -- I mean Brian Griese -- threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Devin Hester returned Detroit's kickoff for a touchdown, meaning the Lions immediately got the ball back, and they drove 80 yards to score a touchdown. Chicago went three-and-out, and Detroit drove 62 yards for a touchdown, missing the extra point. Chicago scored a touchdown with a minute to go and, now trailing by three, onside-kicked; the Lions ran the onside kick back for a touchdown. That's 34 points in a quarter -- two touchdown returns, and touchdown drives on 3 of 3 possessions by the offense.

As for Grossman -- I mean Griese -- what is it about being a Chicago Bear that devours quarterbacks? This team has not had a top passer since Jim McMahon, and even he was effective mainly because defenses were stacking up against Walter Payton. All three of Griese's interceptions were terrible throws forced into double or triple coverage. You'd think a team with decent defense, four blocked kicks already this season and two kick return touchdowns would be flying high. In case you're wondering, Chicago's third quarterback is Kyle Orton, who was good at Purdue but, upon arriving with the Bears, immediately became terrible.

At Least Harvard Hasn't Demanded a Seat on the G-8 -- Yet: According to last week's Wall Street Journal, Harvard's endowment is up to $34.9 billion and Yale's has risen to $22.5 billion. To put those numbers into perspective, the Harvard endowment now exceeds the gross domestic product of Sri Lanka or Kenya and the Yale endowment exceeds the GDP of Costa Rica or Iceland.

It's wonderful that such great institutions of higher learning are funded so well, with assets that seem to assure their continued existence for centuries. But as Tuesday Morning Quarterback asked last year when Harvard's endowment hit a mere $29 billion, why does anyone pay anything at all to attend this school?

Conservatively managed investments using low-risk strategies yield 5 to 7 percent per year; federal law requires many types of philanthropies to disburse a minimum of 5 percent per year or lose their tax-exempt status. At 5 percent, the Harvard endowment would throw off $1.7 billion annually. That's $104,000 for each of the 16,715 undergrads and graduate students currently attending the university. Yet according to College Board figures, the average undergrad who lives on campus at Harvard this year will pay $37,900, that being the official price minus average financial aid award. Can Harvard seriously expect us to believe it is spending $144,000 per year per undergraduate? (That's the actual payments from students plus 5 percent of the endowment.) Shifting Harvard's endowment spending from empire-building to reducing tuition -- either lower prices for everyone, or, say, eliminating all costs for students from families that make $200,000 or less -- would be a tremendous progressive step without jeopardizing Harvard's legitimate desire to hold a rich endowment into the indefinite future.

Instead, Harvard just keeps charging an arm and a leg and the endowment keeps empire-building. One result of the extremely high cost of private colleges is that many graduates feel they must go into high-paying professions to justify what was just spent. If Harvard were free for students whose families aren't rich, or cost much less for all students, perhaps graduates would be more likely to become public-school teachers or Peace Corps volunteers or work for the U.S. Public Health Service or in legal-aid settings. Rather than use its colossal financial assets to educate a generation of smart people willing to serve society in thanks for a great education at little cost, Harvard continues to soak parents, teach money obsession and set an example of hoarding.

Bill Belichick Was Behind This Somehow: At 4 p.m. ET Sunday, as the first games were ending, for about two minutes the league's official scoreboard at NFL.com read: Cleveland leading Baltimore 24-20 [Cleveland was leading 27-13]; Jets 23, Bills 9 [Buffalo had just won the game 17-14]; Minnesota leading Green Bay 26-16 [Green Bay was leading 23-9]; Detroit leading Chicago 27-13 [Detroit was leading 24-20]. All across America, people who had bet on those games must have experienced heart palpitations.

Ravens Also Imitate Parakeets: Who will be this season's train-wreck special: San Diego, New Orleans or Baltimore? Last year, the Ravens held the eventual Super Bowl champion Colts without a touchdown in the playoffs; on Sunday, the Browns danced through the Baltimore defense as though it wasn't there. At one point, Braylon Edwards simply blew past hyped cornerback Chris McAlister for a 78-yard touchdown. Afterward, Edwards said, "McAlister is known to sit down at times." In football slang, "sitting down" means, "stop and do nothing." (Cornerbacks "sit down" when they assume the play will be a run and they won't have to cover their man.)

On the first Cleveland touchdown, the Browns had three receivers bunch right, and Joe Jurevicius merely stepped over the goal line and turned around; Ray Lewis, covering Jurevicius, didn't jam him, merely watched him. Ray Lewis played soft at the goal line. Baltimore threw 53 times -- that's not a misprint -- and rushed 20 times, and it was pass-wacky long before the game got out of hand. Just like players, coaches have good and bad games, and Brian Billick had a terrible game. Not only was his play calling pass-wacky but when Jamal Lewis "scored" to put the Browns ahead 24-3, replays clearly showed he never reached the end zone. Billick did not throw the challenge flag until after the PAT -- too late.

U B the Coach: Trailing 26-16 with 2:10 remaining and one timeout, Houston faces fourth-and-goal on the Atlanta 7. The Texans need a touchdown and a field goal. The field goal here is highly likely, trying for the touchdown is at best a 50/50 shot. On the other hand, the Texans must score a touchdown, and are only 7 yards away; if they take a field goal here, they might be a much longer distance from a touchdown at the end of the game. The middle position is to take a field goal, then onside kick. So do they try for the touchdown, or take a field goal then onside kick, or take a field goal then boom a standard kickoff? U B the Coach.

Exaggerating the Case Against Bush Only Lessens the Focus on His Real Faults: There's a lot to dislike about the George W. Bush administration -- the Iraq war, lack of action on petroleum waste, wiretapping -- but in the rush to make Bush seem as bad as possible, the establishment media consistently have distorted his domestic environmental record, which is basically fine. Air, water and toxic pollution have declined since Bush took office; all U.S. environmental indicators except greenhouse gas emissions have been positive for 20 to 30 years, which you'd never know from opening the morning newspaper.

A problem is that environmental journalists are genetically programmed to spin all stories as bad news while ignoring progress. A classic example is stories expressing horror and outrage that environmental prosecutions initiated by the EPA or filed by the Justice Department are declining, as they have been since the middle of the Clinton administration. But it's good that environmental prosecutions are declining -- the reason is that pollution is declining! As pollution declines, there are fewer violations to prosecute. If speeding declined, police would write fewer tickets: Would we be glad speeding was declining or express horror over the shocking, shocking reduction in prosecution of speeders?

There the canard was again as the Sunday lead-headline story of The Washington Post: "The Environmental Protection Agency's pursuit of criminal cases against polluters has dropped off sharply during the Bush administration, with the number of prosecutions, new investigations and total convictions all down by more than a third," the story began. Of course environmental prosecution is declining, there is less to prosecute every year! The Post's banner story ran 38 paragraphs but never mentioned that all forms of pollution except greenhouse gases are declining, and because greenhouse-gas emissions are legal, there's nothing to prosecute. Mention that pollution is in long-term decline, and Sunday's front-page banner story in The Washington Post goes "poof."

Smash the NFL Sunday Ticket Monopoly! The marquee game Sunday was Denver at Indianapolis. What did CBS, which had the rights to this matchup, show in Washington, D.C., our nation's capital, when the Denver at Indianapolis game was on? Pittsburgh at Arizona. It continues to amaze TMQ that no member of the House or Senate has taken up, as a populist cause, the anti-competitive monopoly arrangement by which the NFL sells its Sunday Ticket service -- which enables viewers to choose for themselves what game to watch -- only to subscribers to DirecTV. Anyone in Canada or Mexico can buy Sunday Ticket regardless of carrier and choose for themselves which NFL games to watch; in the United States, a monopoly prohibits millions of viewers from subscribing to Sunday Ticket because millions of buildings cannot receive DirecTV for technical reasons. Stay tuned, my annual rant against the Sunday Ticket monopoly is coming.

Cutting Edge of Beefcake: NBC's "Football Night in America" showed footage of the Packers' locker room after Brett Favre's record, including several Green Bay players adorned in naught but towels wrapped around their waists.

Will There Be a Southwest Maharishi State, a Maharishi A&M? Maharishi Central University, which claims to be opening this fall, lacks a football team. Good luck enrolling because the school's Web site omits certain details, such as exactly where Maharishi Central University is located. The founder of the school says he has solved the unified field equations that bedevil physics, and in July held a conference in Manhattan at which he claimed his knowledge of unified-field theory can make the United States physically invincible. The man, one John Hagelin, credited group meditation for the early-July stock market rise -- apparently, the meditation stopped just before the late-month market plunge -- and declared that "to ensure that remaining problems in the country are quickly resolved and to permanently establish the nation on a high level of invincibility," a group of 2,500 yogic flyers is needed. Maharishi Central University says the necessary 2,500 yogic flyers will assemble soon in Iowa.

Iowa is headquarters of the Western transcendental movement and home to an actual college, Maharishi University of Management of Fairfield, Iowa. Founded by Mahesh Yogi, the best-known maharishi (roughly "seer"), Maharishi University of Management offers bachelor's degrees in business, computer tech, education, literature and Vedic science. Its philosophy of education is "consciousness-based" -- many NCAA Division I schools cannot say this! -- and although the college has no intercollegiate athletics, aerobics and rock climbing are offered.

It's a quirk of the moment, or perhaps of separating the gullible from their inheritances, that numerous yogic practitioners, including Mahesh Yogi, claim to have mastered the unified field problems of physics and to be able to summon unified fields for such actions as yogic flying -- which for the most mysterious reasons cannot be captured on film! This probably reflects a desire to grant a scientific patina to transcendentalism. Physicists have proposed several basic sets of unified field equations, without any one becoming generally agreed upon. Beyond that, the conjectured "theory of everything," which often is referenced in hushed tones in yogic literature, would not represent any kind of infinite power source or window to higher enlightenment. The "theory of everything" goal is to reconcile the super-small realm of quantum mechanics with the galaxy-sized realm of general relativity. If this is accomplished, it will be an intellectual milestone but is unlikely to have any practical value.

What You've Come to Expect -- Lavish TMQ Praise of Bill Belichick: The New England offense seems unstoppable, and the Flying Elvii aren't doing anything particularly flashy or fancy. Monday night, the majority of their pass patterns were quick slants or short turn-ins, classic touch-football stuff. The reason the Patriots' offense seems unstoppable? Nearly perfect blocking. Tom Brady takes the snap in the (what else?) shotgun spread and calmly scans the field, confident no defender will get close to him. Many NFL passers would have a spectacular rating like Brady's if they were never under pressure. Monday night, the male-model-esque quarterback made one bad throw, intercepted by Cincinnati, and why? Because Bengals defenders hit him as he threw, the only decent hit on Brady all night. The New England pass blocking is so good, Brady goes entire games without being hit; it's a wonder he bothers to wear pads. Their rush blocking is excellent too. Sammy Morris' 49-yard run, setting up the touchdown that put New England ahead 10-0, was a simple off-tackle right; all Cincinnati's defenders were pasted. It's pretty fun to run 49 yards on "Monday Night Football" when everyone in front of you already has been knocked to the ground.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback has been saying for years that the key to New England's quality performance under Bill Belichick is the league's best offensive line, and this game was a clinic on that point. New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is a total unknown to the sports media, yet he has consistently outcoached every line coach in the league other than Howard Mudd of Indianapolis. Scarnecchia is a classic Belichick type, having played at a small college -- California Western, which is now called Alliant International University and no longer has a football team -- then going directly from graduation to starting a career in coaching. Scarnecchia has been with the Patriots since 1991, preceding Belichick, and represents the kind of continuity so few NFL front offices seem to understand. NFL owners and general managers constantly hire and fire assistant coaches, often doing so just to make themselves feel important; though keeping assistants in place long term is the success formula.

What is Scarnecchia's secret? It's so, so simple, yet few NFL teams understand it: New England offensive linemen never stand doing nothing, watching the play. On a shocking number of NFL plays, there is at least one gentleman simply standing there doing nothing at all, and often that gentleman is an offensive lineman. New England's offensive linemen never stand around doing nothing. More than anything else, never standing around doing nothing is what separates the Patriots from the rest of the league, and this approach pays the most dividends on the offensive line.

This helps explain why Belichick has such great luck with retreads and unknown players. He takes players who were in environments where people were standing around, or where success was judged by individual stats rather than team outcomes, and puts them in an environment where no one ever stands around and team outcomes are all that matter. Sammy Morris, who looked great at running back Monday night for New England, has been an NFL journeyman for eight years and been waived twice. Now, he's in New England and is running behind an offensive line on which no one ever stands around doing nothing, and suddenly he looks like Hawaii material. Mike Vrabel, who has played at a Pro Bowl level for New England the past two seasons, was drafted and waived by Pittsburgh. The Steelers wanted Vrabel to produce sack stats; New England just wants him to help the team. And by the way, when will the league's defensive coordinators realize Vrabel catches the ball as an extra tight end at the goal line? Coming into Monday night, Vrabel had eight touchdown receptions at the goal line, yet Cincinnati still looked surprised by his ninth. Two years ago, Vrabel catching a touchdown pass as an extra tight end was the cover of the NFL's official fact book, a volume that should be on every coach's desk, yet people continue to be surprised by this play.

As for the Bengals, sure, they have injuries; everybody in the NFL has injuries. Facing a juggernaut at home on "Monday Night Football," Cincinnati came out passive and played not to lose rather than playing to win. Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, Marvin Lewis ordered a punt on fourth-and-inches. Who cares if the ball was on his own 29? If you can't gain a few inches -- if you won't even try to gain a few inches! -- you're not going to win. Going for it in this situation, when success was highly likely, would have set a positive tone for Cincinnati. Instead, Lewis set a passive, retreating tone -- and New England smelled blood, requiring just four snaps to take the ball the other way for a touchdown. At which point I wrote the words "game over" in my notebook, with a minute remaining in the first quarter.

Scouts Notes: Chad Pennington is a nice quarterback, but he has no zing on his "out" routes this season. Two "outs" he threw Sunday fluttered and were intercepted. If Pennington remains the Jersey/B starter, expect cornerbacks to begin jumping every "out" he throws.

NFC West, the NFL's Halfway House: What's with the Rams and Niners? Sure, Alex Smith was injured and replaced by over-the-hill Trent Dilfer. Did that mean the San Francisco offensive line got the rest of the day off? Seattle coaches responded to having Dilfer in the game by ordering blitzes; San Francisco coaches did not respond by keeping a tight end back to block. The Squared Sevens' offensive line surrendered six sacks and looked just awful on several. Score Blue Men Group 3, Niners 0 in the second quarter, a standard four-man Seattle rush dropped Dilfer as three, count 'em three, San Francisco offensive linemen simply stood watching, not attempting to block anyone. And the Niners have a heavy investment in their offensive line: megabucks free agent Jonas Jennings at one tackle, first-round choice Joe Staley at the other, Pro Bowler Larry Allen at guard. San Francisco's inability to score -- only two teams that have played four games have fewer points -- is doubly troubling given that the team has already traded away its 2008 first-round draft pick.

As for the Rams, ye gods. This team isn't just bad, it's bad across the board in all phases of the game, and it clearly quit at Dallas early in the third quarter Sunday. If I were Les Mouflons' management, I'd hire a couple of extra scouts and start trying to figure out whom to choose with the first pick next April.

An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than the CIA Destroyed the Patriots' Spying Tapes: The remake of "The Bionic Woman" premiered last week. Watch while you can because the show is likely to be canceled 'ere the first snow falls. Obviously, predicting that a new series will get a fast hook is not going out on a biomechanical limb, nor is it unexpected to dismiss a new series as a compendium of warmed-over clichés. What struck me is that the show's central warmed-over cliché -- tippy-top-secret government agency with unlimited power and mysterious purpose -- has become so prevalent in television and at the movies. "The Bionic Woman," "Dark Angel," "The X Files," the X-Men films, the Triple X films, "Dark Skies," "True Lies," "Stargate SG-1," "Enemy of the State," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Invasion," "La Femme Nikita," "V for Vendetta," "The Unit," the "Mission Impossible" films -- these and other recent shows and movies share as core plot elements an Agency Far, Far More Secret Than the CIA. The Agency Far, Far More Secret Than the CIA always operates without oversight, untouchable by regular law enforcement, and usually is engaged in sinister medical experiments to boot. Surely I've missed some; use the Reader Animadversion address to nominate your other favorite recent shows and movies that assume the existence of an Agency Far, Far More Secret Than the CIA.

Maybe Hollywood keeps giving us the ultra-secret-agency plot line merely because Hollywood recycles all clichés; recycling clichés is environmentally conscious! Maybe these super-secret-agency plots play to our paranoid belief that conspiracies underlie world events, which seems unlikely -- but then if the conspiracies were successful, we wouldn't know they existed. Maybe the super-secret-agency plots reflect our desire to believe that government is actually in control or reflect our misconceptions about the limits of technology. (The infallible all-knowing electronics depicted in most of the above-named entertainments simply don't exist.) But watching "The Bionic Woman" remake, I wondered: These ultrasecret agencies -- with their underground headquarters complexes, helicopters, unmarked vans and hundreds of heavily armed guards -- where do they get their budget money?

Best Crowd Reaction: There was loud cheering in Minneapolis when Brett Favre set the record, and I doubt even Vikings players objected to that. But why did Favre hand off at the end? With Green Bay leading 23-16 with under two minutes remaining, facing second-and-8 on the Minnesota 41 and the home team out of timeouts, he should have been kneeling. The Packers' fumble gave Minnesota a final chance, and there was obvious uncalled pass interference on the interception that sealed the Green Bay win. With the Vikings driving in the final minute, Charles Woodson wrapped both arms around the intended receiver; because the receiver couldn't move, the pass sailed to a Packers' nickelback; officials made no call. Maybe it was a random blunder, but you got the feeling the zebras wanted to make sure Favre left a winner on his record day.

Adventures in Broadcasting: On WKRK, the Lions' flagship station, as officials reviewed whether a Detroit receiver got down in time for a touchdown catch at the back of the end zone, announcers said, "He had three feet in bounds!" On WGR, the Bills' flagship station, as Buffalo lined up at the Jets' 1 with the score 7-7, announcers said, "This could unbreak the tie."

Adventures in Officiating: Trailing 30-20, Chicago was near the Detroit goal line with less than two minutes remaining when Brian Griese was hit as he threw and sort of shoveled the ball to offensive lineman Roberto Garza, who ran briefly and fumbled, the Lions recovering and seeming to have the game in hand. (Detroit declined the penalty for illegal pass to an offensive lineman.) After a review, officials ruled that Griese actually had fumbled to Garza, and in the final two minutes, on offense, only the fumbling player can recover; otherwise the ball is dead at the point of the fumble. That gave possession back to Chicago, at the point of Griese's fumble, and the Bears scored to pull within 30-27. No rule is perfect, but this one will need to be reviewed in the offseason because there is a long-standing premise that the offense should not profit from fumbling.

Beli-Cheat Update : Last week, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of all buyers who purchased tickets to Jets versus Patriots games under Bill Belichick, claiming they were defrauded by New England cheating. My guess is this suit won't get far. In Bowers v. Formula One, a 2006 case, ticket buyers attempted a class-action suit about a Formula One race that was advertised as pitting 20 cars but in which only six cars lined up to race. A federal appeals court ruled that the ticket buyers had no legal complaint. The court said that what a ticket to a sporting event or Broadway show or rock concert or similar entertainment represents is permission to come through the door and see what happens. The ticket is no guarantee that you'll enjoy the show or that the singers will hit their notes or -- and this bears on the Beli-Cheat lawsuit -- that the quality of competition will be as good as expected. The New Jersey court that received last week's class-action complaint about Beli-Cheat is not bound by Bowers, which came from a different federal circuit. But it won't be surprising if a judge hearing last week's Beli-Cheat litigation rules that a sports ticket is only an agreement to let you in the door, not a promise that there will be no cheating on the field.

However, last week's filing was only the first of several types of litigation that might arise from Beli-Cheat -- this being America in the 21st century, there is a good chance courts will contemplate the scandal. If a judge does allow any Beli-Cheat litigation to proceed, plaintiffs will win the ability to conduct discovery, depose witnesses and inspect evidence. The NFL says it destroyed all the Patriots' videotapes and cheating notes. It's perfectly legal to destroy evidence until such time as a court or law enforcement office requests same, so if Beli-Cheat becomes a legal case, the NFL probably isn't on the hook for its little shredding party. But the history of legal discovery and of subpoenas shows it is common for there to turn out to be more copies of evidence than the parties thought.

Defendants might think they destroyed all evidence, only to find other copies surface -- and then their destruction of what they thought were the only copies looks really bad in the court of public opinion, if not in other courts. As lawsuits are filed, the odds increase that this evidence will surface. The U.S. legal system is remorseless. If there was New England Super Bowl cheating, lawsuits will remorselessly force the evidence into the light of day, as those who might be in legal jeopardy act to save themselves. TMQ continues to think a big disclosure is coming.

Obscure College Score of the Week No. 1: Wagner 18, Sacred Heart 15. Located in Fairfield, Conn., Sacred Heart University has a polling institute, and its its most recent poll found that 63 percent of Americans think/agree that "most Americans seem to be in a funk."

Obscure College Score of the Week No. 2: Mount Union 62, Heidelberg 3. Located in Alliance, Ohio, Mount Union -- the defending D-III champion -- is the scourge of small college football, a program dedicated to running up the score. In Division III, some schools emphasize sports and some don't: Mount Union strongly emphasizes football, then schedules schools that do not emphasize football to ensure blowout win after blowout win. So far this season, Mount Union has won by finals of 75-7, 58-14, 62-0 and 62-3. On Saturday versus hapless Heidelberg, Mount Union kept its starting quarterback on the field until the margin was 49-3, although the Purple Raiders did attempt a field goal on first-and-goal in the fourth quarter rather than run for the likely touchdown. Once Mount Union reaches the D-III playoffs, it faces other schools that likewise emphasize football and its scores fall back into the normal range. Maybe it would be enjoyable to play for a team that always won by runaway margins, but where is the sportsmanship in a regular-season schedule of opponents with little or no chance of winning? Mount Union also has six home games versus four road dates, a sure sign of a manipulated schedule.

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 might quote you by name unless you instruct me otherwise. Note: Giving your hometown improves your odds of being quoted.

Wednesday: Readers crack back.

Next Week: Marty Schottenheimer takes over the Dillon Panthers.

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.