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"Save the best for last!" This is a traditional goal in the performing arts, and in many aspects of sports. TMQ the coach bellows "save the best for last!" at his youth-league charges when the fourth quarter approaches; it's always my practice-week theme before the final game of the season. Whatever happens last is what gets remembered: save the best for last! And for the second consecutive season, the National Football League has saved the best for last. A year ago, the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl was the very best game of the season, while the fourth quarter of that contest was the very best quarter of the season. This year, the Cardinals-Steelers Super Bowl was the very best game of the season, and the fourth quarter of that contest was the very best quarter. The Super Bowl was fascinating from start to finish, and for the fourth quarter, both teams saved the best for last, reminding us of why we love sports. If you didn't enjoy that fourth quarter, then you don't like sports. Now I can't wait for the 2009 football season to start! Though, I suppose I will have to.
This year's Super Bowl even contained the signature play of 2008 -- James Harrison's 100-yard touchdown return of an interception -- just as last year's Super Bowl contained the signature play of 2007, the David Tyree helmet catch. This season's signature play was a total disaster for Arizona, perhaps denying the desert team a Lombardi Trophy, and also fascinating both tactically and athletically. The play merits analyzing it in detail. But let's pause first to blow TMQ's own horn!
Two years ago, when football pundits were forecasting a pass-wacky Indianapolis-Chicago Super Bowl, yours truly wrote a pregame column saying the Colts would win by running the ball. And verily, it came to pass. This year, with pundits forecasting a game decided by the hot Arizona offense against the No. 1 Pittsburgh defense, TMQ wrote a pregame column predicting, "Super Bowl XLIII will come down to how the Arizona defense performs against the Pittsburgh offense." Arizona had the lead with 2:24 remaining, the Steelers were stuck on their own 12-yard line; it came down to how the Arizona defense performed against the Pittsburgh offense, and the Pittsburgh offense carried the final two minutes. "In past Super Bowls in which a great offense has been paired against a great defense the great offense and great defense roughly neutralized each other, leaving the trophy to be decided by the lesser offense against the lesser defense," TMQ noted a week ago. And verily, it came to pass.
Now to the signature play of the season. With Pittsburgh leading 10-7, Arizona has first-and-goal on the Steelers' 1 with 18 seconds showing in the first half, and the Cardinals are out of timeouts. A field goal would be a good outcome for Arizona -- Pittsburgh seemed to control the first half, yet a field goal would have tied the score at 10 as the Springsteen intermission arrived. Arizona can try a lob-fade to Larry Fitzgerald, who performs this route better than anyone; indeed, Fitzgerald would score on a lob-fade from the Pittsburgh 1 in the second half. But Arizona can't risk a tackle that keeps the clock ticking and ends the half. If the Cardinals are going to try for a touchdown, a lob-fade is what makes sense.
Gregg Easterbrook on
• Stats of the Super Bowl
• Cheerleader of the week
• Overtime reform
• Getting rid of the penny
• Super Bowl analysis
• Adventures in officiating
• The TMQ Non-QB Non-RB MVP
• Springsteen lyrics challenge
• Hidden play of the Super Bowl
The Cardinals lined up with Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin left, Steve Breaston right. They weren't using this formation earlier in the game, and shifted to it on this drive. But as soon as Arizona shifted to this set, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley began pass-rushing from the offensive right. Until Arizona's final first-half possession, the Steelers had blitzed only twice, "going against type," as elite teams often do in big games. But with two receivers left and no running back on the offensive right, Woodley began to rush -- probably the game plan made him a "green dog" in this situation. (A green dog rushes the passer from the back side if he sees he has no running back or slot back to defend.) Twice in the seven snaps of the possession to this point, Woodley had come from the offensive right unblocked and hit Kurt Warner just as he released the ball, the first hard hits Warner took on the night. But Arizona's coaches didn't notice. My 13-year-old, Spenser, was at the game with me and said just before the 100-yard play, "No. 56 is coming through unblocked, somebody has to go over there and get him." Spenser noticed this, but Arizona's coaches didn't, as we are about to see.
As Warner barked the snap count, Pittsburgh -- the team that invented the zone blitz -- ran the best zone blitz of the season. The zone blitz is misnamed; announcers shout, "It's a blitz!" because six or seven gentlemen look like they're coming, but only four actually rush. The goal is to confuse blockers and to lure the quarterback into throwing a slant, every team's standard anti-blitz call. On a zone blitz, a linebacker or defensive end who looked like he was going to rush instead drops into the slant lane, hoping the quarterback won't realize he's there.
Seeing what he thought was a mega-blitz, Warner audibled to a slant to Boldin. (Was the play supposed to be a lob-fade to Fitzgerald? I'd love to know.) Six Steelers rushers started forward, then two dropped back into the slant lanes, one on each side. Woodley came barely impeded from Warner's back side -- though the Cardinals had six rushers to block four. Warner sensed Woodley approaching -- if Warner allowed himself to be sacked, that would have ended the half without a field goal attempt. Warner rushed the pass. He threw the ball directly into the arms of Harrison, who surprised him by dropping into the left slant lane.
Now the really interesting part starts!
Harrison caught the ball at the goal line and started up the right sideline. When he caught the ball, 17 seconds showed on the game clock. Fitzgerald had run a decoy route for Boldin, and was 8 yards behind Harrison when the ball reversed direction; Fitzgerald was the fastest man for either team on the field. For 15 amazing seconds, a hefty linebacker rumbled down the sideline, directly in front of the Arizona bench, three times breaking tackles. Steelers defenders reacted beautifully, not standing around but setting up a six-blocker convoy along the sideline. Arizona's offensive linemen and quarterback Warner reacted beautifully, going all-out to chase Harrison and nearly stopping him.
In the end, a big, hefty linebacker lumbered for 15 seconds -- an eternity in football terms -- without being run down by any of the four Arizona speed players on the field at the time. (Two seconds showed on the game clock as Harrison scored -- in the replay confusion, this was missed and the half was ruled over.) Tim Hightower was well-blocked by Woodley at about midfield, then driven to the ground at the 30 in what might have been an uncalled block in the back. (Hightower was turning when he got hit, so TMQ would not have thrown the flag.) Breaston was farthest from Harrison when the play began, and caught him a yard from the goal line. Boldin utterly disappeared during the action -- he was so far from the play I don't know whether he was well-blocked or just quit.
Now, about Fitzgerald. Initially he chased Harrison at half-speed, seeming to assume the half was about to end anyway. This is the Super Bowl -- go all-out! Then he chased Harrison madly at full speed, and at about the 25, seemed about to make the tackle; if he had, considering a penalty was called on Arizona during the play, Pittsburgh would have been in position for a half-ending field goal and a 13-7 lead. But at the 25, Fitzgerald slammed into his own out-of-bounds teammate. That white stripe along the sidelines in front of the team box? It's an area where players are not supposed to go, unless speaking to a coach. Technically it's a penalty for players to be standing on the white stripe unless talking to a coach. This foul ("sideline violation") is almost never called. At any rate, as Harrison and his convoy passed the out-of-bounds Cardinals players, veteran Antrel Rolle stepped forward to get a better look. Rolle was just inches from the field of play, and Fitzgerald, struggling to maintain his balance, slammed into Rolle. Fitzgerald is so fast and agile that he still recovered enough to reach Harrison at the goal line, but by then it was too late, and Pittsburgh led 17-7 at the half. The most important, most interesting play of the 2008 season included an Arizona player slamming into his own out-of-bounds teammate along the sideline at the key juncture.
Hey, you young players out there, when the coach yells at you to step back from the sideline, there's a reason. If Rolle had stayed where he was supposed to, Arizona might be having a victory parade this week.
In other Super Bowl news, as usual the MVP went to a glory boy, Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes. If ever the award was deserved by a lineman or linebacker, it was Sunday. Harrison not only ran an interception 100 yards for a touchdown on the signature play of the 2008 season, he drew three holding penalties against Cardinals left tackle Mike Gandy. Television announcers tend to talk exclusively about sacks, but offensive holding penalties are every bit as good. All three holds on Gandy were drive-killers. Previously in the postseason, Gandy had shut down megabucks pass-rushers John Abraham and Julius Peppers. Harrison ate Gandy for lunch. And when Fitzgerald broke into the clear down the middle for the long score that might have proved to be the winning touchdown, who was the sole Steeler nipping at Fitzgerald's heels for the final 20 yards? James Harrison, a linebacker. The Pittsburgh speed guys had given up on the play, but Harrison did not. See below for the 2008 winner of the coveted "longest award in sports" -- the 2008 Entertainment and Sports Programming Network's Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back National Football League Most Valuable Player. Otherwise known as the ESPNTMQNQNRBNFLMVP, pronounced "Q-y." Harrison was awarded the Q-y last week, before the Super Bowl was played (see accompanying video). He should have received the Super Bowl MVP as well.
In other football news, nobody's happy with the NFL overtime rule. See below for reader suggestions. Also see below for my annual season-ending State Standings. And in Super Bowl halftime news, see below for readers' nominations of their favorite incomprehensible Springsteen lyrics.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 1: Arizona allowed 13 combined points in the first 29 minutes of each half, and 14 combined points in the final minute of each half.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 2: Nine Super Bowl teams have returned interceptions for touchdowns; all nine won.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 3: The postseason-record 546 receiving yards by Larry Fitzgerald equated to a 2,184-yard receiving season (136.5 yards per game).
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 4: Pittsburgh's Gary Russell had two carries for minus-3 yards and a touchdown.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 5: The Super Bowl teams combined for 608 yards passing and 91 yards rushing.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 6: The postseason record seven receiving touchdowns by Fitzgerald equate to a 28-touchdown receiving season (1.75 TDs per game).
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 7: Pittsburgh won a championship despite allowing 53 sacks this season.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 8: In 19 games, the Pittsburgh defense allowed just four plays of 40 or more yards.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 9: One-quarter of the NFL's teams (Pittsburgh, Dallas, Green Bay, Jersey/A, New England, Oakland, San Francisco and Washington) has more than twice as many Super Bowl victories (31) as the rest of the league combined (12).
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 10: Pittsburgh has as many Super Bowl victories (six) as 21 NFL teams combined (Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Jersey/B, Kansas City, Minnesota, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa and Tennessee).
Cheerleader of the Week: Brittani of the Arizona Cardinals -- Cards cheer-babes dominate this week's column because the Steelers have no pep squad. According to her team bio, Brittani is a college student majoring in elementary education. Also according to Brittani's bio, her favorite day of the year is Christmas. Then be of good cheer, because this year, TMQ expects the Christmas decorations to start going up in August!
A Cosmic Thought: Recently astronomers led by Wendy Freedman of the Carnegie Institution combined data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the newer Spitzer Space Telescope to see through the gas and dust at the core of the Milky Way and make accurate images of the huge, extremely hot, close-together stars near the massive black hole assumed to be there. And recently, Elizabeth Humphreys of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found two brand-new stars coalescing just a few light-years from the black hole at the galactic center. Our solar system revolves in the suburbs of the galaxy. The suburbs turn out be the desirable real estate of the Milky Way. At the galactic center, stars are much closer together and much hotter, and thus any planets would be bathed in fatal levels of radiation; on the galactic exurban fringes, matter is so diffuse that planets probably don't occur.
The discovery by Humphreys shows that stars can come into existence even close to the gravitational well of a massive black hole. It had been assumed that everything around the galactic-core black had been swept inward and crushed; instead the area appears to be a hotbed of star manufacturing. (Angular momentum prevents the new stars from falling into the black hole.) Images by Freedman's team show that a galactic-center zone of swirling power, a zone thousands of times larger than our solar system, teams with stars that are as close to each other as the Earth is to Mars. The center of the galaxy, where the black hole resides, isn't a graveyard -- it's a nursery! The age of the Milky Way is unknown, but the oldest Milky Way star found so far, HE 1523-0901, appears to be about 13 billion years old, which suggests our galaxy is nearly as old as the universe itself. Yet the galactic center pulses with the very energy of creation. We are part of a cosmic enterprise that is still in its initial stages. Who can say what the ultimate purpose of the cosmos may be?
Hello, Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite -- I Said Rewrite, Not Voicemail! News organizations are in the business of getting people to tell them things, from the locations of torrid assignations to state secrets. But good luck trying to get information about the news organizations themselves! Though every college, most government agencies and most corporations offer easily accessed directories of employee phone numbers and e-mail addresses, most newspapers and television news departments do not release this information.
The only news-related direct phone number the New York Times gives out is for its ombudsman, whom the Times calls its "public editor," presumably to serve political correctness by avoiding the offensive term "man." Worse, the Times uses a phone number masking system -- when a Times reporter rings you up for comment, your caller ID device reads: 111-111-1111. This makes it impossible for you to realize the Times is calling, and hence avoid the call, unless you know that 111-111-1111 is the New York Times' secret code. (Well, now you do know.) The alias number also makes it impossible for you to record the Times reporter's phone number. If you want to call him or her back, say to complain about a misquote -- "You quoted me as saying, 'The Crimean War was caused by imperialistic desire to control the instant-soup trade,' when actually I said, 'The Chicago Convention Center has a trade show of souped-up cars'" -- you can't direct-dial a New York Times reporter. You must go through the incredibly frustrating electronic switchboard, which plainly is designed to make anyone who dares to call the paper hang up. Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, probably first tried to leak the Watergate scandal to the New York Times, but couldn't get through the switchboard.
The Wall Street Journal also uses phone number masking -- when a Journal reporter gives you a ringy-dingy, the caller ID reads: "PRIVATE." Is this just a big-paper affectation? The other day a writer from the Raleigh News and Observer rang me up; my caller ID device read: PRIVATE. Many newspapers now publish reporters and columnists' e-mail addresses, but not telephone numbers, which are far more effective for useful contact. So you are supposed to confide to reporters your innermost secrets, but the reporters don't want you to know what phone number they are calling from!
Sweet 'N' Sour Series: After pulling to within 20-14, Arizona reached first-and-10 on the Pittsburgh 26 with four minutes remaining, but then drew an offensive holding. Now it's third-and-20 on the Steelers' 36, and Arizona's coaches used a strange tactic. In trotted third-string blocking tight end Ben Patrick, who earlier caught a goal-line touchdown pass, but is among the slowest receivers in the NFL. The Cardinals lined up trips right with Patrick between Fitzgerald and Boldin; in the NFC Championship Game, Arizona threw to Patrick from this formation. But then the Cards needed 2 yards, now they needed 20! "This can't be a semi-trick play to Patrick," I said to Spenser. Resulting in an incompletion, it was quite a sour call -- even if the ball had been caught, Patrick would have gained maybe 5 yards.
Now it's fourth-and-20 from the Pittsburgh 36, and TMQ's Law of the Preposterous Punt holds that the trailing team that punts in opposition territory in the fourth quarter will go on to lose. Arizona did punt and did lose, but considering it was fourth-and-20 and the Cards held three timeouts, punting made sense. The ball was downed on the Pittsburgh 1, which was sweet. Three plays later, holding in the end zone pulled the score to 20-16, and two snaps after the free kick, Arizona led 23-20 and the best quarter of the 2008 season was in full swing. Had Pittsburgh gone on to lose, people like me would have questioned why, while holding a 20-14 lead with time ticking down, possessing football's best defense and facing first down on their own 1 after the punt, the Steelers did not simply call three rushes to move the clock. Instead Pittsburgh went incompletion, rush and safety on a pass attempt, stopping the clock twice.
Generik Kommentt: TMQ continues to marvel that even one single person in the entire world has fallen for a Nigerian e-mail scam -- the ones that begin, "To my most trusted and dearest friend, whose name I do not know." What about the spam e-mails promising cheap prescription drugs? Such e-mails typically contain rampant spelling errors. Since prescription drugs go into your body, you might want to have a sense that the people behind them possessed advanced skills, such as the ability to click a spell-check button.
Overtime Reform: Everyone hates the NFL overtime rule, which this playoff season spectacularly malfunctioned, allowing San Diego to defeat Indianapolis in the fifth period without the Colts ever touching the ball. Playoff games should not be decided by a coin flip! But the NCAA overtime system -- alternating possessions beginning at the 25-yard line -- isn't much better, because it results in games decided by a sequence that scarcely even resembles what happened in the first four quarters. The National Federation of High Schools overtime system, employed by most states (the big exception is Texas, which uses the NCAA rulebook for high school) is even sketchier; the alternating possessions begin at the opposition 10. If Barack Obama can't bring us a Division I-A football playoff, what about NFL overtime reform?
Tuesday Morning Quarterback kicked off the subject three weeks ago by proposing that in NFL overtime, a full fifth quarter be played but with field goals, punts and PAT kicks prohibited; only kickoffs following a touchdown or safety would be allowed. These rules would prevent the battle of punts that happens in overtimes, such as the Philadelphia-Cincinnati overtime this season; compel teams to be aggressive on fourth down; and preclude an early field goal from deciding an overtime, practically ensuring each team possessions. What if the fifth period ended tied? In the regular season, the contest ends as a tie, same as now. In the postseason, play till a period ends with a winner.
On Friday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suggested a new overtime format in which the team that takes the opening kickoff cannot win by a field goal on its first possession. Here are reader suggestions, all received three weeks ago, following the TMQ proposal. Esra Lucas of Baltimore proposes a variation: that a 15-minute extra period be played, but that only a touchdown should invoke the sudden-death rule. A field goal or safety would count, but play would continue until either a go-ahead touchdown or the end of the fifth period. "This would create an incentive for an all-out push to the end zone, including going for it on fourth down. Unlike a field goal, which seems like a letdown way to win, a touchdown would signify a well deserved sudden-death win. If only a touchdown ended the game, the opportunity for both teams to touch the ball would increase."
Jeffrey Ellis of Winchester, Va., proposes, "The core problem with the NFL system is the fact that NFL kickers consistently hit field goals from 45 yards, effectively shortening the field -- a team can win the overtime toss, get a couple of first downs, and kick the game-winning field goal without doing all that much. My idea is Plus-Four Sudden Death. In order to end the game immediately in overtime, a team must gain a lead of at least four points; if the extra period ends with neither team leading by at least four points, then any lead wins. Thus, field goals are still a part of the game in overtime, but there's a much bigger incentive to try for touchdowns, and the scenario where the team that guesses correctly on the overtime coin toss and quickly moves 25 yards to kicking the winning field goal is eliminated." Adam Radziminski of Vancouver adds, "In professional squash, when the game goes to extra points, the winner is the player who gets ahead by two clear points. This works well for exciting extra points play that is not decided by a fluke serve or one quick point. Moving to football, this would be the first team to, perhaps, lead by six points. This would result in overtimes that cannot be decided by an early field goal. The coin toss would still be important, but the winning percentage related to coin toss winning would be decreased."
Joseph Kaufman of Scarsdale, N.Y., suggests, "Keep the same system -- first to score wins -- but instead of a kickoff have the team that choose to receive begin on its 10-yard line. This should eliminate the quickie field goal victory; and some teams winning the coin flip would elect to play defense, eliminating the compliant of the loser never having a chance at the ball."
Steve Fetter of Henderson, Nev., proposes, "When the captains go out to midfield at the end of a tied game, each team will place a bid on the yard line at which it is willing to begin the overtime session. The team willing to start furthest from its goal line begins with the ball at that spot on the field. So if Team A is willing to start at its own 20, and Team B is willing to start at its own 10, then Team B gets the ball at its 10 to start overtime. This takes pure chance out of the process, while adding the excitement of two sealed envelopes being opened by the referee and announced to the crowd in the stadium and the TV audience at home." Spoken like a true Nevada gambler! Tom Tredon offers a variation: "The team that wins the overtime coin toss chooses where on the field the ball will be spotted. The other team then chooses whether it will play offense or defense." A positively Rawlsian solution! (Look up social philosopher John Rawls and the "veil of ignorance" concept.) Terry Hendershott of the University of California at Berkeley goes further, offering this economist's dream proposal in which the competing coaches engage in a complex auction to see which overtime conditions they are willing to accept. Then after they decide who gets the ball, they can auction off carbon emission credits!
Here is the horse that TMQ backs, because it is simplest. Geoff Roark of Tyler, Texas, proposes, "In overtime, just eliminate the field goal. The main defect of the current NFL overtime is the ease of winning the coin toss, getting a short field after the kickoff, advancing a relatively short distance then gaining victory with a field goal. If the overtime were still sudden death but a touchdown or safety was required to win, then one way or the other the winners must reach the end zone, while the odds of the losing team never having an overtime possession go way down."
That's 13.1 Tons of Greenhouse Gases Caused by the Anti-Greenhouse Crusader: Last week Obama reversed a George W. Bush order that had prohibited the state of California from imposing fuel-efficiency standards on new cars. This was a smart move. Most states of the Northeast have announced they will match the California standard, which will reduce both petroleum waste and greenhouse emissions. California's rules are more likely to have teeth than the loophole-rich MPG rules Congress passed in 2007. The Golden State and Northeast represent more than half the American auto market: once the California standards take effect, automakers will finally stop dragging their feet against fuel efficiency. Just after Obama was elected, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has made high automotive MPG his personal cause, wrote to the new president asking that California gasoline-saving rules be allowed to go into effect.
But do as I say, not as I do. The night before Obama's inauguration, TMQ bumped into Schwarzenegger at the Starbucks in trendy Potomac Village, Md. Good news: He's not tall or even barrel-chested, that's all Hollywood special effects. Waiting for the governor outside the Starbucks was an ultra-gigantic Chevy Tahoe, rated at 12 mph in the city and 13.1 tons of greenhouse gases per year. I walked past the Tahoe to do errands, and noted Schwarzenegger's driver had the engine running, though idling the engine in a parked car wastes petroleum and causes needless greenhouse emissions. I walked past the other way 20 minutes later, and the Tahoe still had its engine running. At taxpayer expense, of course. Schwarzenegger is all too eager to lecture others about reducing their oil use, but he himself has no problem with being squired around in wasteful cars and won't even tell his own driver to shut off the engine when parked.
Often along the streets of Washington, TMQ observes SUVs and driver-service cars idling their engines for lengthy periods as the drivers wait for some government official or diplomat. This column has noted the trend toward government officials demanding bodyguards and private jets not to be safe but to feel more important. Perhaps somewhere some official has said, "My driver must keep the engine running for security against terrorism." Starting an engine takes five seconds! Computer-controlled engines of cars built since about 2000 do not require warm-up time, as they perform the same when they first light as they do after an hour of idling. Plus, so far as I could determine, there has never been an attack against a government official walking toward his or her car in the United States.
Get Rid of the Penny! Four commemorative Lincoln cents will be released by the United States Mint in 2009. Why does the penny even exist anymore? One cent has no monetary meaning. Pennies clog our national pockets and purses. The cent forces clerks to waste time handing out hyper-specific sums of change, which we must then lug around. Think of the cost in greenhouse gases alone of the added weight of pennies in the nation's cars! In recent years, the cost of copper has meant taxpayers pay more than one cent for each cent minted. This year, the materials cost of a penny is about half a cent. But that's just materials cost: minting, shipping and distribution expense must be added. Roll them in and the penny has negative value: we waste money sustaining this national nuisance. Given the state of the federal debt, should we be wasting tax money in order to create a national nuisance? Australia has already eliminated the cent both as a coin and as a price unit. Time to follow suit -- get rid of the penny.
News item: The city of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, has paid the government of France $525 million to license the Louvre name. An art museum called the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be built on Saadiyat Island in the Persian Gulf.
• "Welcome, visitors, to the Grand Canyon Wadi Hanifa. This is a fully licensed spectacular canyon vista designed in consultation with geologists from the National Park Service of the United States. Saudi Arabia paid $10 billion to the United States government to license the Grand Canyon; this covered 39 seconds of U.S. federal borrowing. Get comfortable on your animatronic simulated donkey, and we'll start down the canyon for the ride of a lifetime. Before you ask, those beautiful red rocks are 100 percent authentic! They were imported from the state formerly known as Arizona, which is now a subsidiary of a Belgian brewing company."
• "Welcome, visitors, to Independence Hall Saint Petersburg, Presented by Gazprom. We at Gazprom are excited to showcase this exact duplicate of the original Independence Hall in Philadelphia. This lovely Georgian-style building -- sorry, I am not supposed to say the word Georgian -- holds the authentic Liberty Bell, which the United States government auctioned off on eBay to fund 11 seconds of U.S. federal borrowing. In the display cases you can inspect totally genuine simulated copies of reproductions of vital documents having to do with liberty, such as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. You won't see many documents pertaining to Russian liberty, of course. Ha ha! My little joke."
• "Welcome, visitors, to Big Ben Beijing. This officially licensed reproduction of Big Ben reaches out to the world in the spirit of friendship and copyright acquisition. The Great Bell in Big Ben Beijing is the actual Great Bell, sold to the Chinese government by the British government in the spirit of friendship and desperation. Using the money acquired by licensing Big Ben Beijing, the British government was able to pay down 43 minutes' worth of unfunded pension obligations. Based on this success model, watch for Big Ben Shanghai, Big Ben Macau and the recently licensed Big Ben Taipei, now that that little matter has been resolved to everyone's complete satisfaction."
• "Welcome, visitors, to Eiffel Tower Almaty. Here in Kazakhstan, we are proud of our program to employ oil revenues to purchase the cultural heritage of the Western world. As you know, much of that heritage has already been sold! We wanted to buy officially licensed affiliates of the Washington Monument, the Brandenburg Gate, the White House or Winchester Cathedral, but those structures already had bilateral marketing partners. Imagine our delight when the French government decided to auction off the Eiffel Tower to pay down bank bailout debts! We are told it all began with France's decision to license the Louvre. Many of you may find it surprising to learn that the Louvre was once only in France; now, of course, Louvre Art 'N' Apparel outlets can be found anywhere in the world."
Super Bowl Analysis: Why was almost half the game's offensive yardage in the fourth quarter? Maybe defenders tired, or maybe the league's best defense made one of football's oldest tactical errors -- switching to the prevent. Through the first three quarters, the Steelers double-teamed Larry Fitzgerald, and the league's most dangerous receiver was taken out of the game. Often, strong safety Troy Polamalu jumped in front of Fitzgerald just before the snap and jammed him; a safety always shaded Fitzgerald's way. Oddly, Arizona did not react to this tactic by having Kurt Warner look at Fitzgerald, then throw deep to the opposite side of the field. In fact, the Cardinals did not attempt a deep pass all night -- Fitzgerald's 64-yard touchdown came when he legged out a slant. In the fourth quarter, the Steelers stopped doubling Fitzgerald and switched to a prevent, or at least, to a very soft two-deep zone. (Surely no football team at this point actually uses "prevent defense" as terminology.) Through the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh had either one safety, Ryan Clark, 25 yards deep, or Clark and Polamalu both 20 yards deep dividing the field into a two-deep zone.
In the first three quarters against Pittsburgh's standard defense, the Cardinals gained 127 net yards passing -- 27 net yards, if you subtract the 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter against the soft two-deep look, the Cardinals passed for 247 net yards and nearly won the Super Bowl. So from this, what do you conclude about the prevent defense? Plus, the one thing the soft two-deep zone "sells out" in order to stop -- the long touchdown -- it failed to stop.
Though Pittsburgh's complex zone blitz at the goal line was the team's best play of the season, through most of the game the Steelers played fairly conventionally. James Harrison almost always lined up as the outside linebacker on the offensive left, LaMarr Woodley almost always as the outside backer on the offensive right. In most games this season, these two have lined up all over the field. Pittsburgh sometimes used a two-defensive-linemen front, even on first down -- that's how confident the Steelers were in stopping the Arizona run -- but never showed the wandering-around Times Square Defense in which several front-seven players are walking back and forth before the snap. Harrison got TMQ's MVP vote despite no sacks and just three tackles. The Steelers' defense is a collaborative effort that is about results, not personal stats -- and note that after his 100-yard touchdown, Harrison did not dance around the field pointing at himself. Meanwhile, if you want to see fundamentals, watch how well Steelers cornerbacks tackled. Three times the Cardinals threw wide receiver hitches, and all three times the tackle was immediate, stopping the hitch man for a short gain. Twice Pittsburgh threw wide receiver hitches, and each time the receiver broke the initial Arizona cornerback tackle, gaining nice yards.
On offense, Pittsburgh had a man in motion on almost every snap. Early on, Arizona defenders seemed confused about who had the motion man, especially when Hines Ward went in motion. Twice near the goal line, Pittsburgh sent Ward in motion inward, back toward the formation, then ran Willie Parker behind him the other way effectively. As so often this season, the Steelers went shotgun spread and threw in situations in which common sense seemed to dictate a run; except on the safety, they avoided paying a price for this bewildering tactic. Four times in the Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger looked hemmed in for a sack and escaped -- especially on the Hidden Play (see below). Roethlisberger had only one really bad down: his interception. He threw to the wrong guy -- Heath Miller was open in the right flat.
In the second half, the Cardinals' front seven outplayed the Pittsburgh offensive line most of the time, stopping the run and pressuring Roethlisberger; Pittsburgh had only three second-half points at the two-minute warning. In the third quarter, Arizona staged impressive back-to-back red zone stands when a Steelers' possession was refreshed by a roughing the holder penalty. But on the final Steelers' drive, the offensive line was stout. Also on the final drive, Roethlisberger began pump-faking, which he hadn't earlier -- the 46-yard completion to Holmes was on a pump-fake off a zed-in route. Pittsburgh's offense, which didn't have much to brag about this season, sure saved its best for last. Pittsburgh gained 150 yards passing in the first 57½ minutes, then 84 yards passing in the final 2½ minutes.
As for Arizona, its offense seemed in a funk until the Cardinals went five-wide in the second quarter. The Cards tried to establish the run, but couldn't, and returning to their pass-wacky roots seemed to pick the team up. In the fourth quarter, when Arizona's passing game was on fire, the Cards usually had four wide receivers on the field, and often went no-huddle; again, doing what they were comfortable with worked. The Cards' offensive stats ended up being tremendous. Had it not been for the 100-yard interception return, Arizona might have won and its offense would be the toast of the town. The 100-yard return goes against the coaches as much as the players; how Cardinals faithful must wish the team had simply protected the ball and kicked a field goal.
On defense, the supposedly suspect Cards played well until the final two minutes. Some of this must be laid at the Arizona coaching office doorstep. Rookie corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was matched up against Santonio Holmes most of the day, and as the fourth quarter wore on, clearly was outmatched. Rodgers-Cromartie was a small-school player, never in college knowing anything remotely like Super Bowl pressure. The Cards have veteran megabucks defensive backs in Antrel Rolle and Adrian Wilson, why wasn't one of them switched onto Holmes? Not only did Holmes catch four passes for 73 yards on Pittsburgh's Super Bowl-winning drive, on the previous possession, the Steelers had been going to Holmes, too -- Santonio made a terrific 19-yard reception on the play that became a safety, owing to holding in the end zone.
Then on the game-winning play, Holmes lined up in the right slot and ran an out. No one covered him! Roethlisberger was initially watching Ward; Holmes was able to cut toward the flag without being covered, initially, by anyone. Three defenders had converged by the time of the tip-toe catch -- "on further review, both toes were inbounds" referee Terry McAulay announced to the crowd -- but the fact that Holmes broke clean was shocking. Holmes had 67 yards gained on the possession to that point; Arizona dropped seven into coverage; the Cardinals had only 6 yards and the end zone to defend; yet not only did no one jam the other team's hot receiver, initially no one covered him. Arizona played a fantastic postseason, and came within 2:37 of a set of gaudy diamond-encrusted rings. Even if the Cards' defense, and coaches, choked at the last, this was still a year to remember.
But could we clear something up here? No opponent of the Pittsburgh Steelers is afraid of towels. The Terrible Towel is a nice spectator tradition; it has no effect on the game. Mega-pumped football players in body armor are not afraid of towels.
Adventures in Officiating: There is a lot of talk about the 11 penalties against Arizona, plus puzzling non-calls -- on the play before the safety against Pittsburgh, runner Willie Parker's knees were down in the end zone and a safety should have been called, but zebras spotted the ball at the point he lunged forward to after his knees hit the playing surface. Had Pittsburgh won on the strength of questionable calls, the NFL would be an unhappy organization this week, given that three years ago, the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl on the strength of questionable calls. On Pittsburgh's third-quarter field goal drive, the penalty for roughing the passer against Arizona was complete nonsense, while the facemask call on that drive should, if anything, have been an offsetting call against both teams. Officials looked so confused in making the call, TMQ wondered if they simply pointed their arms the wrong way. The roughing the holder call that followed was clearly correct. In the end, Pittsburgh won outright, while Arizona benefited from several major calls or no-calls: three were two uncalled obvious holds by the Cardinals' offensive line on the Arizona fourth-quarter touchdown drives. (Two obvious offensive holds by Pittsburgh also were not called, one on a scoring drive.) And did Harrison get the ball across the goal line at the end of the first half? Maybe, but if the league would simply chip the football as TMQ keeps asking, we'd be sure. Two of the past four Super Bowls have been won by the Steelers, partly owing to Pittsburgh being awarded touchdowns when it was far from clear the Steelers' runner crossed the goal line. If the football were chipped, these disputes would end.
I don't know what NBC showed, but can report that at the stadium in Tampa, no controversial call or no-call was replayed on the JumboTron -- only plays about which there was no issue were replayed. It seemed pretty obvious the league was trying to prevent crowd booing, which would be heard by the international television audience. Tuesday Morning Quarterback found that really phony: crowd reactions to calls (be the crowd right or wrong) are an integral factor in football.
Absurd Specificity Watch: The day before the Super Bowl, Weather.com forecast there would be a 1 percent chance of precipitation at 4 a.m., a 10 percent chance at 3 p.m., a 0 percent chance at kickoff and a 10 percent chance during the fourth quarter. Weather.com forecast that at kickoff, the temperature would be 62 degrees, the humidity 52 percent and the wind east-northeast at 4 mph. Reader Steve Whitlock of Atlanta reports he once noted Weather.com forecasting a 4 percent chance of rain at 9:30 a.m. Jon Blum of Citrus Springs, Fla., notes the Web site Weather Underground last week listed the temperature in his town at 73.4 degrees. Last week it snowed in Washington, D.C., and during the snow, Weather.com forecast the chance of precipitation would be 62 percent at 8 p.m., rising to 67 percent at 9 p.m. Reader Greg Hamilton of Toronto, easily tops these: The first Toronto baby of 2009 was announced as born at 0.9 of a second after midnight.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP: Only performers from the 12 playoff squads are considered: TMQ's feeling is that if you are going to wear the mantle of most valuable, you better have created some value. To win this award, the player cannot be -- oh, never mind. Previous winners: Alan Faneca, Steelers, 2001; Lincoln Kennedy, Raiders, 2002; Damien Woody, Patriots, 2003; Troy Brown, Patriots, 2004; Walter Jones, Seahawks, 2005; Jeff Saturday, Colts, 2006; Matt Light, Patriots, 2007. Note: Because the award was given to Harrison a week ago, this item was written last week, before the events of the Super Bowl.
Second runner-up: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals. Being glory boys, wide receivers are borderline non-quarterback non-running backs, so they don't get much attention from this award. (Brown won for the season in which he played both ways as wide receiver and nickelback.) But no offensive performer has had more impact on games this season than Fitzgerald. Andre Johnson and Steve Smith also had spectacular receiving stats. But Johnson's team went home when the regular season ended; Fitzgerald's team went to the Super Bowl. And when Fitzgerald and Smith met in the playoffs, it wasn't even close.
First runner-up: Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens. Players who have received a lot of press attention that season normally don't get much attention from this award. But Reed played one of the best years ever for a defensive back; he was a material factor for the Ravens, who were expected to be terrible and instead reached the AFC Championship Game. Though his flashy touchdowns are what make highlight reels, Reed's fundamentals are what make the Nevermores' defense. Players in the Baltimore front seven know they can take risks because Reed will cover for any mistakes. He has the best center fielder instincts of any current NFL defensive back.
2008 Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP: James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers. Players who have already won Defensive Player of the Year normally wouldn't even be considered for this award. Pittsburgh had the NFL's best defense in 2008, and Harrison is Pittsburgh's best defensive performer. He fits the TMQ ideal to a T -- undrafted, waived twice early in his career, never gave up. In fact he's the first undrafted person to be Defensive Player of the Year. Harrison has continued to play special teams, even after making the Pro Bowl. He never tries to draw attention to himself, exemplifying the team spirit of the Steelers' front seven. This season, when the Steelers' long snapper got hurt, Harrison went in with little warning to long-snap against the Giants, then sailed the ball far above the punter's head. Afterward Harrison was furious with himself on the sideline. He was furious with himself for failing to do something he'd never even tried! Now there's an MVP! Here is a St. Petersburg Times account of the presentation by Molly Qerim of ESPN; scan to the bottom for Harrison saying he "had never heard" of TMQ's award. I've got to start promoting that nickname, the Q-y.
Blimpie -- Ideal Corporate Sponsor for the Aeroscraft: TMQ wants a ride in an ML866, a "buoyancy-assisted" airship -- a proposed new class of flying machine -- from Aeroscraft, a California startup. A buoyancy-assisted airship would have an onboard supply of helium and a vast zeppelin-style sack. To make the airship rise, air would be expelled from the sack, helium would be decompressed and the ship become lighter than air; to make it return to the ground, helium would be compressed and replaced with air. Aeroscraft's proposed airship could take off or land anywhere; accelerate to about 125 mph, better than a blimp or zeppelin; and have 5,000 square feet of interior space. That's far more interior space than any corporate jet. Room for a piano bar, a swimming pool, you name it.
OK, the world does not need an airborne conference center. But it's starting to be too long a time between new classes of flying machines. The only new class of flying machine in the past quarter century is the tiltrotor, which takes off vertically like a helicopter, then turns its rotors forward for airplane-style flight. The benefit is a blend of land-anywhere operation and top speed of 300 mph, twice the best speed of a helicopter. The Marines are using the V-22 tiltrotor in Iraq, though only in areas where hostile fire is not expected; not much of an endorsement for an aircraft that's been sucking down R&D billions for 20 years. The Air Force just used a few V-22s during a training exercise in Africa. Bell/Agusta Aerospace is toying with a civilian tiltrotor. Such a plane would make possible a type of trip that cannot happen now -- say, take off vertically from downtown Philadelphia and land vertically in the center of Manhattan 25 minutes later. But tiltrotors have many technical drawbacks, prominently little chance of surviving failure -- whereas fixed-wing aircraft can land with engines out, as US Airways Flight 1549 just showed, and helicopters can land engine-out if power is lost at low altitude, where helicopters usually fly. If there's a civilian tiltrotor based on current technology, you won't find me aboard.
Whether or not the Aeroscraft ever flies, at least this company has brought back the zeppelin as a sightseeing vehicle. And here would be a new class of flying machine.
When This Swindle, Too, Collapses, Members of Congress Will Claim They Had No Way, Just No Way at All, of Knowing: Under the headline Fed to Try Additional Unusual Methods, the Washington Post reported last week that the Federal Reserve "could start buying long-term government bonds." That's right -- a federal agency will buy bonds from the federal Treasury, one government agency loaning to another and then both recording the transaction as a positive. Already the federal government reduces the apparent magnitude of the national debt by borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund, issuing IOUs that are absolutely sure to be paid back! Issuing loans to yourself, then manipulating the accounting so your financial condition appears much better than it is: this is exactly what they were up to at Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and the rest. The financial sector got into its current mess by borrowing excessively without accountability, then trying to cover up the details with bookkeeping gimmicks, all so the people in power could continue to enjoy money till the whole thing collapsed. Now the federal government is doing exactly the same thing.
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Jeff Hudson of Billerica, Mass., reports, "I bought my wife a scarf/hat/mittens set from J. Crew for Christmas this year. Alas, I got mittens that didn't match the set. On January 5th, I searched J. Crew's website for the mittens; no longer available. I proceeded to call four J. Crew outlets in varying parts of New England. In every store, not only did they not have the mittens I was looking for, they had completely removed all mittens from the shelves!" Graham Toth writes, "My wife went to our local Home Depot to find an ice chipper for removing the three inches of ice that has formed on our driveway, only to find the seasonal section of the store filled with plants, bags of fertilizer and gardening tools. We live in Regina, Saskatchewan. It has been -30 Celsius for the past three weeks." Dan Szeezil of Chicago reports, "I was in Old Navy last week looking for a winter scarf. It was predicted to be very cold here, zero for the high temp. Old Navy had no scarves or winter hats whatever. Fortunately for me, they did have men's and women's swimsuits on sale at 25 percent off."
Springsteen Lyrics Challenge: As a fading Boomer, TMQ loves Springsteen. But realistically, a lot of Bruce's supposedly deep lyrics are gibberish. For example, "The hungry and the haunted/explode into rock and roll bands." Sure, lots of Bob Dylan lyrics make absolutely no sense. But Springsteen was supposed to be a muse of the street. What if, a la Dylan, many of his lyrics were just trendy-sounding galimatias? I asked readers for their favorite bewildering Bruce lyrics, and got five examples for every one cited below. Maybe it's just as well the Boomers became Bruce fans by listening to his songs on the radio, where the lyrics were hard to understand, and before you could use the Web to look up what was actually said.
Many readers, including Allyson Mitchell of Carrollton, Texas, proposed that any line from "Blinded by the Light" would qualify as Springsteen mumbo-jumbo. She suggests, "Madman drummers bummers/Indians in the summer with a teenaged diplomat." But this song is intended to be ridiculous, an accelerated variant on "I Am the Walrus." So TMQ disqualified "Blinded by the Light."
Sam McKnight of Alpharetta, Ga., writes, "'Save your notes, don't spend 'em on the blues boy/Save your notes, don't spend 'em on the darlin' yearlin' sharp boy/ Straight for the church note ringin', vibes man sting a trash can.' The lyrics are from New York City Serenade. I'm a huge Springsteen fan, but I have to admit that I liked this song better when I sang along with what I thought I was hearing. Once I read the lyrics, the song lost a lot for me. What the heck does it mean to sting a trashcan?"
Andy Ryan writes, "Springsteen music will be featured at my July wedding, but some of his lyrics are enough to drive the best fan crazy. My favorite absurd verse is from Lost in the Flood, off his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.: 'His countryside's burnin' with wolfman fairies dressed in drag for homicide/They hit and run, plead sanctuary, 'neath a holy stone they hide/ They're breakin' beams and crosses with a spastic's reelin' perfection/nuns run bald through Vatican halls pregnant, pleadin' immaculate conception.' This verse, which is beautifully sung, is completely incoherent."
Laney Brehens of Miami Beach, Fla., writes, "Bruce sings, 'Like a river that don't know where its flowin/ I took a wrong turn and I just kept goin.' How could a river fail to know where it is flowing? Maybe rivers use MapQuest." Mohit Arora of Markham, Ontario, writes, "You can find weird lyrics in Springsteen's latest effort, the popular The Wrestler. Specifically he asks 'Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making his way down the street?' I've seen three-legged dogs. I don't think I could handle seeing a dog that had lost three legs. How exactly would a one-legged dog move?" Chris Kleifgen, of Indianapolis, notes this pretentious seems-to-mean-something-on-reflection-means-nothing couplet: "Man there's an opera out on the Turnpike/There's a ballet being fought out in the alley." And that's from "Jungleland," Springsteen's best work!
Mark Geil of Kennesaw, Ga., proposes these bewildering lines from "Lucky Town": "'Had a coat of fine leather and snakeskin boots/But that coat always had a thread hangin' loose/Well I pulled it one night and to my surprise/It led me right past your house and on over the rise.'" He supposes, "You can argue that there aren't that many threads in leather, and that pulling your own thread from your own coat won't really lead anywhere except to, well, your own arm, and that you would have guessed the thread would lead him to her house, not some hill just past her house. But then you remember, it's symbolism! Isn't symbolism supposed to symbolize something?"
Amnon Wenger of Bergenfield, N.J. -- somewhere in the swamps! -- writes, "Could you imagine trying to serenade your true love with these lyrics from Thunder Road? 'Show a little faith, there's magic in the night/You ain't a beauty, but hey you're alright.' Any self-respecting woman would have walked out and smacked him before he could feebly explain, 'and that's alright with me.'"
Joe Wooley of Lakewood, Ohio, notes, "On Bruce's debut album 'Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey,' the track 'For You' contains, 'And your cloud line urges me/Oh and my electric surges free.' Which does rhyme, but most likely means nothing. It should be noted Springsteen's extra-wordy, rhyming style helped elevate him to stardom in the first place. Once the noted rock critic Lester Bangs praised the Boss's lyrical stylings as 'breathtakingly original' and contended all the words 'fit snug.' Given Bruce's notorious loquacity, it is reasonable for a good amount of nonsense to be mixed in with songs of perceived social commentary and intellectual insight. Surely I don't need to remind you that Hall of Fame baseball players fail at the plate 70 percent of the time."
Matt Lublin of Los Angeles notes from "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street," the lyric, "Where dock worker's dreams mix with panther's schemes/To someday own the rodeo." The same song contains such classics as "Queen of diamonds, ace of spades, newly discovered lover of the Everglades."
Kenji Kojima of Cupertino Calif., proposes "Endless juke joints and Valentino drag/where dancers scraped the tears up off the street dressed down in rags," from "Backstreets." He notes, "This is one of my favorite Springsteen songs, but for the life of me, I have never been able to decipher these lines. People say it conjures up a vision ... but a vision of what? Unhappy, poorly shod Dancing With The Stars contestants?" Robert McLeman of Ottawa notes from "The Price You Pay" this extended mystery: "And just across the county line/A stranger passing through put up a sign/That counts the men fallen away to the price you pay/And girl before the end of the day/I'm gonna tear it down and throw it away." He writes, "I have tried many times to imagine what that sign might look like."
And the Challenge prize -- a worthless trinket sent by me from the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla. -- goes to Jonathan Seiglie of Murphy, N.C., who is a college student and thus not a Boomer! He writes, "Here are my favorite odd Springsteen lyrics, from 'Prodigal Son,' which he recorded in 1972 at the beginning of his career but did not release till more than 20 years later. The lyrics go: 'When the telephone rings and falls off the hook/And your legs have been stolen by some defense department crook/And you startin' to think about writing a book/But now you won't pledge allegiance to anything.' I have no clue how these four lines relate to each other at all." Jonathan, you're not supposed to understand it! They're deep.
Final State Standings: Tuesday Morning Quarterback's annual State Standings are based on the states in which teams actually play: so the Maryland teams are the Ravens and Redskins, and so on. Note the three states with the best percentage records -- Tennessee, Indiana and North Carolina -- all lost their first playoff contests. Note that California, Florida and Ohio, traditional football hotbed states, finished a combined 54-76-1. Of the traditional football hotbed states, only Pennsylvania had a good year.
Indiana, North Carolina: 12-5
New Jersey: 21-12
Colorado, Louisiana: 8-8
New York: 7-9
The Football Gods Promised an Investigation: One of the nice treats of attending the Super Bowl is that it is the sole NFL contest at which the visiting team brings its cheerleaders, meaning two sets of cheer-babes flouncing on the sidelines. But we're on a streak of four consecutive Super Bowls in which one of the teams has no cheerleaders, meaning no double-dip of dancing. Plus, no-cheerleader teams are 3-1 in the Super Bowl on the current streak. I must journey alone to a distant mountaintop -- OK, a distant parking lot -- to contemplate this.
Sing the Whole Song! Faith Hill sang an extra-sugary rendition of "America the Beautiful" shortly before the national anthem. This is one of TMQ's favorite songs, and I wish performers would not use sugary arrangements: There was so much syrup in Hill's interpretation, she could have been selling pancakes. The song should be performed simply, with emphasis on the words. But wait -- we didn't hear the words! Hill sang only the familiar first verse. Is our national attention span so short that we can't hear all four verses of the greatest song ever written about America? Here is the complete "America the Beautiful": "America! America!/God mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law!" Occupants of the White House should be required to memorize this song. Yet the full lyrics are rarely performed in public, just the easy-listening first verse.
Hidden Play of the Super Bowl: Hidden plays are ones that stop or sustain drives, but never make highlight reels. With Arizona leading 23-20, Pittsburgh faced third-and-6 on its 26 at the two minute warning. The Cardinals rushed five, and two Arizona rushers beat their men. Ben Roethlisberger stepped up between them, shook off a tackler and threw 13 yards to Santonio Holmes for the first down. Roethlisberger has been breaking tackles in the pocket all season. Had he gone down there, Pittsburgh would have faced fourth-and-long in its own end, and punting was out; Arizona's chances for a comeback win would have been high.
Reader Comments: TMQ has been harping on government officials hiring bodyguards not for security, but to make themselves seem important, and state and local officials taking lavish taxpayer-funded international trips, though the Constitution explicitly forbids state and local officials from making foreign policy. Matt Huffman points out this jaw-dropper story of government waste and official excess: North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, his wife, assistants and a "security detail" spent $170,000 of taxpayers' money on a trip to Italy. The cost included a $700 lunch and $51,000 for a chauffer-driven Mercedes. The Raleigh News Observer reports, "Bryan Beatty, head of the agency that handles Easley's security, said the car was necessary to ensure the safety of the governor." There is no chance a special Mercedes and a security detail were needed by North Carolina's governor on a trip to Italy: He could have taken a cab to the $700 lunch. But the bodyguards and fancy car made him seem important, as if he were a visiting head of state. And why was the governor and a large retinue in Italy at taxpayer expense in the first place? Supposedly to encourage Italian industry to locate in North Carolina. This is a classic pretext used by state and local officials to justify luxury trips that always seem to be to France or Italy.
Isolated instance? Kirsten Dalquist of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., points out this recent story of an inspector general's report that recommended prosecution of a former public official. The official is alleged to have used her taxpayer-funded bodyguard detail to run personal errands such as buying groceries and picking up dry cleaning, and even to drive family members on sightseeing trips. Who is this person accused of government misuse, a former top CIA director or Pentagon official? Antonia Novello, the health commissioner of the state of New York. A state health commissioner visits hospitals and attends committee meetings. Yet she was surrounded by taxpayer-funded bodyguards, who if the allegations are true, she sent on her own personal errands. This is the second part of the two-part problem of the unneeded government bodyguard. First, taxpayer money is wasted on security details with no meaningful role other than to make a government official seem important by striding around between armed men. Second, the government official begins to believe he or she is so super-ultra-important -- after all, I have bodyguards! -- as to be above the rules. This is the latest variation of the old failing of government officials, "Lying to the press, then believing what you read." It all starts with superfluous bodyguards, specially equipped Mercedes, private jets and other expenses originally justified as a response to 9/11, but now having taken on a life of their own as government waste.
Reader Paul Koivuniemi notes many big-college coaches get state troopers as bodyguard escorts at games: "Who is going to attack someone surrounded by 100 giant strong people in armor?" Pretty clearly the state troopers are there at taxpayer expense to make the coach feel important. And Gary Porro notes, "Back in 2003 when Mitt Romney was merely Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, long before he launched his presidential bid, this story made the local rounds: 'Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has declared four acres of public waters on Lake Winnipesaukee off limits to the public. Sometime this summer, Massachusetts state police who serve as the governor's security force strung ropes 250-feet out into the lake along 700 feet of shoreline near Romney's summer home.' So the governor had state police rope off four acres of public waterways supposedly for his security. Now there is an important person." Note: Lake Winnipesaukee is in New Hampshire.
Finally, Arizona had the uniform color choice in the Super Bowl, and some touts zinged the Cardinals for choosing their reds, which allowed Pittsburgh to wear its whites, the unis in which the Steelers won their previous Lombardi. But Nick van der Merwe of Cape Town, South Africa, notes the choice was wise: Studies show that sports teams in red have a statistical advantage over any other color.
Next Week: The stadium lights are out, the film rooms have gone dark, and the cheerleaders have put their miniskirts away in very small drawers. But the final act of the 2008 NFL season remains: Tuesday Morning Quarterback's annual Bad Predictions Review. Here's a foretaste: Everyone was wrong about everything!