Page 2 columnist
Wow, look at the card for Sunday afternoon -- San Francisco at Oakland, Pittsburgh at the Cleveland Oranges, Tom Brady's Patriots at Drew Bledsoe's Bills. Too bad most of the country won't see these monster games. On a weekly basis, much of the country cannot tune in the best NFL contests; even people willing to be charged for the privilege often find that a monopoly prevents them from paying to watch the games they want. Therein lies a tale that ought to be of interest to lawmakers in Washington.
While the NBA, college football and other sports allow fans to pay extra to watch the games of their choice via cable, "NFL Sunday Ticket," which charges household viewers $199 annually to tune in any game, is available solely via DirecTV, the satellite service. DirecTV is really terrific -- if you can get it, which most Americans cannot. Only homes with an unobstructed view of the sky above the southwest, where the DirecTV satellite hangs, can access this service. If you live in a city with tall buildings, a suburb with trees or in the countryside around rolling hills, you're out of luck.
Fewer than 10 percent of American households receive DirecTV. Officially, DirecTV contends that almost anyone can get its signal, but the reality is that the majority of U.S. homes can't or don't. (Speed reading note: if you perused TMQ's recent Wall Street Journal article on this subject, skip to "in other NFL news.") TMQ personally knows seven people in four states who have tried to sign up for DirecTV, and only two were able to receive it. In my own case, of four antenna companies that came to the Official House of TMQ, three said no way and the fourth quoted $1,300 to install an elaborate pole-mounted receiver that would not be guaranteed to work. Greenhouse-gas-absorbing trees is TMQ's problem, as it is for millions who wish they could get NFL Sunday Ticket. DirecTV's advice? Cut down the trees. Sure, Al Gore lost to George W. Bush, so you might get away with this. But even if you actually wanted to cut down the trees around your home in order to watch television, this would cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Because DirecTV is so difficult to receive and often so expensive to have installed, NFL Sunday Ticket is restricted to a lucky few -- and is something of a rich man's toy. Cable, on the other hand, is already in the majority of American homes, already readily available to almost everyone else, and cable installation charges rarely exceed $100.
If you're infuriated, as you should be, that NFL Sunday Ticket can be obtained only via a monopoly that most Americans don't or can't get, be aware that the league's monopoly arrangement with DirecTV is up for renewal at the end of the year -- which is why Congress should get interested.
The DirecTV exclusive was a fluke. In the early 1990s, rumors circulated that the NFL would stop free, over-the-air broadcasts and move its product to cable pay-per-view. Congress threatened antitrust retaliation. The NFL responded by making a big public commitment to free broadcast, while granting a monopoly on residential pay-per-view to the brand-new service called DirecTV, then being promoted as something anyone easily could receive.
The decision enabled the NFL to assure Congress that games shown on cable would remain free, and at the time was hailed as a consumer victory: free games preserved, while anyone who wanted more could opt for DirecTV. Now that the cost and unavailability of DirecTV have become clear, in retrospect was happened was a consumer disaster.
Forbidden to sell Sunday Ticket, cable providers may on Sunday afternoons show only whatever game the local CBS or Fox affiliate chooses. (Note to conflict-of-interest fans: Because ESPN and ABC air NFL night games that do not compete with CBS and Fox afternoon offerings, the corporate parent of ESPN.com has no dog in this hunt.) Aside from home-team games, local affiliates tend with smart-bomb efficiency to lock in on the worst matchups of the week. Or they insist on showing what seems like "regional" matchups, when a much better national game is available. For example, reader Scott Krasner of Charlotte reports that a week ago Sunday, the Charlotte local affiliate aired the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons-Green Bay matchup, a boring blowout, when the much-more-heralded Tampa at Philadelphia game was available on the same network in the same time slot.
Local affiliates, as this column has dismally documented, also rarely switch away from a boring blowout to whichever game is going down to the wire, though they are allowed by the NFL to switch. The lucky elite with Sunday Ticket can decide for themselves which game seems hot, and switch to whatever is going down to the wire. The 90 percent of American homes that don't get DirecTV are stuck with the woofer matchups and boring blowouts.
The situation is worst in the nation's largest city, New York, and in the nation's capital, Washington. Because New York has the Jets and Giants, these teams occupy most Sunday-afternoon slots, meaning the nation's largest city routinely does not see the top Sunday matchups. Washington local affiliates show all Persons and Baltimore Ravens dates, meaning rare is the Sunday afternoon game not involving these two teams.
Sunday Ticket could be broadcast on digital cable, which is already in almost twice as many homes as DirecTV and, at current trends, will be in five times as many homes soon. Because the exclusive deal with DirecTV ends this year, the NFL would be expected to extend Sunday Ticket to digital cable, in order to expand the market and increase revenues. The fly in the ointment is that the NFL's master contract with CBS and Fox runs till 2006, and contains a clause allowing these networks to block Sunday Ticket from cable.
Fox and CBS oppose moving Sunday Ticket to cable because they know it would be incredibly popular there, shifting more of the balance of power from networks toward cable carriers. (Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns Fox, is involved in a convoluted hostile takeover attempt against DirecTV; it's unsettled how this impacts the Sunday Ticket issue.) Fox and CBS also have a legitimate concern that at present, Sunday Ticket carries only national commercials; the more the current version of Sunday Ticket expands, the more this would harm local-affiliate income. Digital cable technology could splice local commercials into Sunday Ticket, solving the problem for Fox and CBS affiliates. But until cable carriers win rights to the games, they have no incentive to install the gizmos that do this.
The NFL, CBS and Fox are discussing an agreement that would allow Sunday Ticket on digital cable in return for revenue-sharing payments from cable carriers to the networks. This would be the ideal, win-win resolution of the problem. But if CBS, Fox and the cable carriers cannot agree on revenue-sharing terms, the NFL is expected to renew the DirecTV monopoly through the 2006 season.
So far these machinations have escaped the notice of lawmakers, and that should change. Congress ought to get involved and pressure for the end of this unnecessary monopoly and the expansion of viewer choice. NFL games are played in publicly subsidized stadiums; the over-air, cable and satellite spectra used to broadcast the games are publicly regulated. Congress should work to maximize choice for the voters who are taxed to make NFL profits possible. If the NFL is willing to sell viewing of any game for $199, this deal ought to be available to everyone. Sunday Ticket belongs on cable where anyone can see it, not on satellite where it is restricted to the favored few.
In other NFL news, thousands of Americans have already cast their votes for next Tuesday's elections via early-voting or vote-by-mail programs recently adopted in many states. Not waiting for Emmitt Smith to break the record, thousands of Tuesday Morning Quarterback readers have already early-voted on the subject of who is the best back in history. See their verdict at TMQ Challenge below.
Best Play That TMQ Was Sure Was a Bad Play: Trailing Jersey/B 21-3, the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.0) faced fourth-and-five at the Jets 19 in the second quarter. In trotted the field-goal unit. No! shrieked TMQ, sensing another timorous NFL coach playing to reduce the margin of defeat rather than playing to win. The Oranges went on to a 24-21 victory, in which this figgie represented the deciding points.
Best Flag-Football Play of the Day: Trailing by a point with three minutes left, the Texans lined up to receive a Jax punt. Jabar Gaffney took a couple steps then tossed a throwback lateral across the field to Aaron Glenn, who ran 43 yards to set up the winning field goal. Jacksonville defenders never saw the truck that hit them. Fresh from flag football practice, my 13-year-old son asked, "Why don't teams do that more often?" Why not indeed, TMQ wonders.
Verily, They Had Spoken: Last week, TMQ channeled the football gods, saying they had foreseen that Emmitt Smith would break Payton's record on Sunday before the home crowd and that "the transfer of history would occur around 3 p.m. Eastern." Smith surpassed the record at 3:23 Eastern.
Worst Trifling with the Football Gods: When Emmitt broke the record in the stadium with the big white star, officials allowed the Cowboys to stop the game for various celebrations. The Seattle Blue Men Group, rightfully insulted that their presence on the field was being treated as a mere prop, came back to win with the figgie on the closing play. TMQ was reminded of the October 1995 game, at Miami, in which Dan Marino passed Fran Tarkenton for the all-time completions record. Officials allowed the Dolphins to stop play for various celebrations. The Indianapolis Colts, rightfully insulted that their presence on the field was being treated as a mere prop, and down 24-3 when play was stopped, stormed back to defeat the Dolphins 27-24.
Best Stuffs: Trailing by six, Cincinnati had fourth-and-goal at the Flaming Thumbtacks' 1 with a minute remaining. Corey Dillon up the middle, stuffed, game over. Trailing by seven, Detroit had fourth-and-one at the Bills' 20 with two minutes remaining. James Stewart up the middle, stuffed, game over.
Worst Play Radioed In: Leading 23-7 in the middle of the third, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons had fourth-and-one on the Colts' 5. Rather than take the field goal and a secure lead, Persons coach Dobby the Elf (Steve Spurrier) radioed in a shot to the end zone. Incomplete, Indianapolis drives for a touchdown, and suddenly it's a tense game. Dobby will come to woe if he does not realize that the point of NFL games is not to run up the score, the point is to get a W in the next morning's newspaper. Verily, the football gods hath foreseen a coming woe.
Worst Failure to Read TMQ: TMQ's current hobby horse is that if you're going to play-fake near the goal line, do it on first down when the defense is thinking run, not on second down after the defense has stuffed a run and is thinking pass. With first-and-goal on the Broncos' 8, New England play-faked; touchdown pass to Christian Fauria. Converse proves the rule: Facing second-and-goal on the New England 1 after the first-down rush was stopped, leading 21-16 in the fourth, Denver play-faked. Now really, who is going to fall for this? Brian Griese throws it away, barely avoiding a big sack; the drive ends in a field goal.
Lump of the Week: Chicago surrendered a safety to Minnesota when Anthony Thomas was stuffed attempting to run up the middle from his goal line. Bears fullback Daimon Shelton was supposed to lead-block. Check the tape; the ball is snapped and Shelton just stands there, watching as his man hammers Thomas.
WhereWas the Defense? Leading Arizona 24-7 with 24 seconds before the half, the Niners had the ball on their 39. Jeff Garcia threw a short under pass to Terrell Owens, who caught the ball at his 45 in the middle of the field and went the distance. Where was the defense? TMQ watched the tape three times and could hardly even locate any Cardinals DBs. Arizona faced an obvious "prevent" situation, yet a receiver took a short dump pass, looked up and saw no one between him and the goal line.Where was the defense?
NORAD Has Been Alerted! At 1:29 Eastern on Oct. 27, the Cincinnati Bengals held a lead for the second time in the 2002 NFL season.
Improbable Plays of the Week: Indianapolis runs the play-action fake more than any team in the league, and this action can be devastating when the Colts are ahead or Edgerrin James is running well. In obvious passing situations, nobody buys the play-fake. Trailing 23-7 in the third against the Persons, Peyton Manning play-faked on first down. Nobody fooled, interception. On the next Horsies possession, still 23-7, Manning again play-faked on first down, sack. Exception to the rule: On Monday Night, the Eagles play-faked on third-and-16 from the Jersey/A 32. Normally a play-fake would be doomed on such an obvious passing down, but since many teams call the draw in this situation to improve field-goal position, defenses might be expecting run. The result of this play was an incompletion, but it wasn't a bad idea.
Best Hands in Letter T: New England scored a touchdown to make it Broncos 21, Patriots 16 in the fourth, and surprised Denver by lining up to go for two. Denver called timeout and, after switching defenses, stopped the try. Defensive coordinators and captains tend to think they should save the timeouts for the offense, but forming your hands into the letter T is the smart move when the other team lines up for something you're not ready for. Cincinnati might have won its Super Bowl against the Niners in 1989 had the Bengals defensive backs, seeing San Francisco come out in an unusual formation they couldn't match up with, simply formed their hands into the letter T before the winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left.
Wow Play of the Week: On Michael Vick's 32-yard touchdown run, did he engage the cloaking device or project a positron backscatter field to fool Saints sensors? New Orleans players appeared to have no idea where Vick was.
Stat of the Week: Carolina, Chicago, New England and Oakland opened a combined 12-0, and have since gone a combined 0-17.
Stat of the Week No. 2: New England won 12 straight and now has lost four straight.
Stat of the Week No. 3: Kansas City allowed a 300-yards-plus passer for the seventh time in eight games.
Stat of the Week No. 4: Against the once-mighty Baltimore defense, the once-feeble Pittsburgh offense scored touchdowns on each of its first four possessions.
Stat of the Week No. 5: Bills running back Travis Henry has lost six fumbles in eight games, while Wayne Chrebet fumbled for the first time since 1996. Henry is fumbling once every 29 touches; Chrebet went 323 touches between fumbles.
Stat of the Week No. 6: Rich Gannon is on a pace to throw for an NFL-record 5,443 yards. And if he doesn't, the mark looks safe, as Drew Bledsoe has slipped to a pace for 5,000 yards. (The season record, held by Dan Marino, is 5,084 yards.)
Stats of the Week No. 7: Seven teams -- Buffalo, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jersey/B, New England, Oakland and St. Louis -- are passing on 60 percent or more of their snaps. Cleveland!
Stat of the Week No. 8: David Carr was sacked 26 times in September and 18 times in October. The Texans had a bye in October.
Cheerleader of the Week: Rocketing up the charts are the cheer-babes of the Philadelphia Eagles, who recently set the bar with a we-are-definitely-not-shy lingerie calendar, though TMQ was seriously disappointed that for last night's Jersey/A-Philadelphia game at the Vet, the Eagles cheer-babes did not wear the sprayed-on unitards they sported last season on chilly days. These outfits met with the hearty approval of thousands of guys.
This week's TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Courtney of the Eagles. Disturbingly, she is a psychologist, which means that none of your lines would work on her. ("So, TMQ, what deep-seated inadequacy caused you to call my profession disturbing?") According to her team bio, Courtney's favorite book is a real book, "A Separate Peace." There's a lot of "Who Moved My Cheese" and similar literature among cheerleader favorite books. Her bio also includes, "What is the most attractive quality I find in someone? A unique sense of humor." Courtney, TMQ has a unique sense of humor! And I've written real books! Oh, that's right -- lines don't work on her.
Posted Without Comment: Blair Thomas, Keith McCants, Andre Ware, Anthony Smith, Percy Snow, James Williams: players taken before Emmitt Smith in the 1990 NFL draft.
Attack of the Pants! Buffalo, Jersey/B, New England and the Seattle Blue Men Group wore monochrome outfits of colored pants that matched their jerseys. All looked, to TMQ, like malfunctioning screen savers. Have NFL scouts been infiltrating the CFL to steal its theories of the uniform?
TMQ Thought for the Day: Former CIA chief William Webster is named to head the new federal panel that will oversee accountants to prevent fraud. If he brings to this task the same sharp-eyed, penetrating technique the CIA has recently displayed, the fleecing of shareholders and 401(k)s has barely begun.
Was He a Flight Risk? Ejected from the game at Baltimore, Plaxico Burress was accompanied off the field and up the tunnel by a police officer. Police officers usually accompany ejected players to the showers. Why?
Fun Fact: Publishers estimate there have been 80,000 books about Napoleon Bonaparte, more than the number of days since his death, currently 69,413. For an elaborate article contending Napoleon was poisoned by the dastardly Count Montholon, click here. For electronic jigsaw puzzles of Napoleon, click here.
Karma-Altering Addition: Last week Sam Madison, Brock Marion and James McKnight of the Marine Mammals complained in public about teammate Oronde Gadsden's contract offer. Is it just seem that way, or did Miami start public bickering basically to the minute the Dolphins signed Cris Carter?
Under Dave Wannstedt, the Mammals have been one of the league's cohesive, good-karma units -- they win with medium-strength talent because they stand together. Cleaving to this policy, Miami got rid of Daryl Gardener last summer, because he was an insufferable me-first guy. Now the Dolphins have signed one of the most insufferable me-first players ever. Carter will strut around shouting "me, me, me" to anyone who will listen, and how many days till the first time he denounces his new teammates? TMQ has trouble seeing how this is good for Dolphin karma.
Fold-out of the week: Playboy unveiled a "Women of WorldCom" pictorial, featuring several alluring WorldCom employees with nothing to hide. And TMQ thought the watch-word at WorldCom was cover-up! This follows Playboy's previous "Women of Enron" pictorial. (Regrettably, these are links not to the photos but to newspaper articles about same.) The Enron spread included two fun revelations, first that one of the women who posed wears a padded bra -- so everything at Enron was padded! -- and second that one of the posing babes "has a degree in environmental science." Now, TMQ has written often about environmental science, attended conferences on same, heard many a lecture on how a single molecule of sawdust can cause global ionospheric antidecompensation, and has never glimpsed any double-XX individual who could moonlight for Playboy.
One of the WorldCom exhibitors, Shellie Sloan, is attempting to rebuild her portfolio by direct-marketing various naughty photos of herself; check her web site.
Knowing that babes from Enron and WorldCom have dropped their shirts to the floor for Hefner's rag made TMQ wonder these things:
Also, Arthur Andersen has certified that each and every one of the women in the pictorials really, really wants to hear from Playboy readers.
Can't Anybody Here Grind the Clock? A week ago at Miami, Buffalo held a 13-point lead and got the ball with seven minutes to play. Rather than grind the clock, the Bills went pass-wacky: incomplete, incomplete, incomplete and punt with hardly any time used up. This Sunday versus Detroit, Buffalo held a 10-point lead and got the ball with six minutes left. Run, incomplete, incomplete and punt with hardly any time used.
After jumping to a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter the Jets, playing at home, went 22 minutes without a first down and rushed for just 19 yards in the second half, failing to grind the clock and allowing the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.0) time for their comeback.
Sominex Presents the NFL Game of the Week: Tampa 12, Carolina 9, with all scoring by field goals.
We're All Professionals Here: In the above-cited Bucs-Panthers game, there were six turnovers, nine sacks and 15 punts.
Bengals Strategy for Holding a Lead: Punt on First Down: In the preseason, Chris Berman called the Bengals his "sleeper" team. Perhaps he meant to say "mummified" team, as Cincinnati fell to 0-7. Berman is not alone; despite failure after failure this year, on the Sunday CBS pregame show, Jim Nantz called the Bengals his "sleeper" team.
Scoring Note The box score for the Vikings-Bears game reads, Safety: Thomas tackled in end zone.
Yet the box score for the points prior to the safety reads, "Moss 39 pass from Culpepper." By the logic of the way safeties are scored, it should read, Touchdown: Reggie Austin burned on deep out.
When a player scores a touchdown or field goal, the scoring player is credited. But when there's a safety, the line score mentions the victimized gentlemen, while saying nothing about the scoring player -- the guy who caused the safety. On touchdowns, line scores never mention the guy who was burned or missed the tackle or fell down. Vikings DT Fred Robbins got the safety. The box score should read, Safety: Robbins tackle.
And it surely need not add "in end zone," since where else can you record a safety? Touchdown line scores don't say, "Moss 39 pass into end zone."
Reader Haiku: Submit yours using the link below at Reader Animadversion. Steve Stenton's refers to fact that last week on the lateral, scorers credited Michael Vick with "zero receptions for 28 yards." Karen Locascio, see TMQ's answer below.
Blitzing doesn't get
the defensive coaches fired.
Prevent defense does.
-- David Scardaville, Houston
Why does K.C. blitz?
Our pass defense would be burned
by Stephen Hawking.
-- Cory Laflin, Wichita, Kan.
for Saints; dear Tagliabue,
free Dale Carter now!
-- Neil Anthony, Darwin, Australia
Emmitt, full of class,
surpasses Sweetness. Jerry?
The word rhymes with class.
-- Joel Sikora, Stockholm, Sweden
The Lions blitzed -- burned!
The Bills faked blitz -- D prevailed!
Which reads TMQ?
-- Eric Zasada, Rochester, N.Y.
Leave Strahan alone.
The sack record stands; Brett Favre
takes dive for no man.
-- Karen Locascio, Allston, Mass.
I sense a spike in bad snaps
and V-Chip TVs.
-- Mike McDaniel, San Diego
L.A. was a layover.
Rams sprang from Cleveland.
-- Jeff Schorr, Austin, Texas
Vick's in express lane
for Canton. Career yards per
catch -- infinity!
-- Steve Stenton, Austin, Texas
Sapp Is Right, But Don't Get Used to That: Brett Favre laid down to let Michael Strahan get the single-season sacks record in the final game last year. Brett's lame, Martha-Stewart-class explanation made no sense. Why, with a big lead late in a game and needing to grind clock, would Favre have called a naked bootleg pass requiring a rollout directly toward Strahan? Other than to create an excuse to take a dive in front of the gentleman and give him the record. Warren Sapp's point is the finisher. If it was a rollout pass, Sapp asked, where was the intended receiver? Check the tape. The Green Bay line is rush-blocking. The wide-outs are leaning against their DBs. No one's running a pattern.
But though Favre's action was brazen, bear in mind he did it not as a present to Strahan, but for selfish reasons. Favre is a gifted self-promoter who has numerous endorsement deals. Adopting a line often used of politicians, the most dangerous place in the world is between Brett Favre and a television camera. Before the game, Fox had devoted a lengthy segment to Favre and Strahan. Brett knew that if the record was set, he would get significant air time after the game too, and be featured on all sports-roundup shows. If there were no record, there would be nothing to say and no reason to show Favre. Brett traded a small tranch of his reputation for air time; it's a deal almost any politician would make. Considering that football is an entertainment industry and the play had no impact on the outcome of the game, the football gods appear to have let this one slide.
Favre generosity note: Jersey/B defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell says Jets DE John Abraham "has the ability" to break Strahan's quasi-record. The ability, maybe -- but will Favre give Abraham a gift, too? The Jets play the Packers in this year's season finale, just as the Giants played Green Bay in last year's finale.
Strahan riches note: After being handed a mega bonus, many players celebrate by taking the remainder of the season off. Strahan got an $11 million bonus this summer and, through seven games, has just 3.5 sacks. Monday night Strahan was pushed around like a practice-squad player by the Eagles' Jon Runyan; from the middle of the second quarter on, Strahan was no factor.
Vote Early, Vote Often: Regarding the fad for early-voter and vote-by-mail programs, TMQ expects many to be found unconstitutional, at least as regards presidential elections, as Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution specifies that everyone must vote on the same day. The wisdom shown by the Framers in making this stipulation is demonstrated by last week's heartbreaking death of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone. Minnesotans who had already used early-voter programs to cast ballots for Wellstone now find their votes must be tossed into the recycling bin. There's a good reason why everyone should vote on the same day and no reason TMQ can see, other than health complications or being overseas, for remote or early voting.
The League Had to Prevent Lord Voldemort from Introducing Himself as Best-Ever Owner: Sunday night the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons celebrated their 70th anniversary by announcing their 70 best players. There was time to introduce 10 of the chosen at halftime of the nationally televised Persons-Horsies tilt on ESPN. Malevolent Persons owner Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder) personally chose the 10. They were Billy Kilmer (QB), Sonny Jurgensen (QB), Joe Theismann (QB), Bobby Mitchell (WR), Art Monk (WR), Charley Taylor (WR), Mark Moseley (K), Darrell Green (DB), Kenny Houston (DB) and Sam Huff (LB).
Notice -- zero linemen. So Lord Voldemort, none of the really important players in Persons history were linemen, eh? So the team has consisted entirely of glory boys, eh? Check the list of 70. Sixteen of the 70 are linemen, or 23 percent. Forty-one percent of NFL starters are linemen.
Verily, a Warning: Despite terrific play and a seventh game, television ratings for the World Series hit an all-time low, falling to a mere 50 percent of what ratings were just 11 years ago. Now, could this possibly have something to do with the fact major-league baseball players and management have spent the past 11 years with their middle fingers raised to the fans? Baseball is cruisin' for financial collapse owing to its open contempt for the fans; imagine what will happen if Fox, which is financially troubled and now will have to pay give-backs to advertisers because of low Series ratings, defaults its contract with baseball. Verily, NFL players and management, thou hast been warned, do not fall into this slough of despond.
Hidden Indicator: In close defeats, New England and Oakland passed a combined 84 times and ran a combined 36 times. This is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider's understanding of the game. In this case, everyone knows exactly what it means.
Running items department
Obscure College Score of the Week: Rhodes 59, Colorado College 0. The obscure alma mater of TMQ his ownself, Colorado College honestly admits it finished only 28th in its US News ranking. Home of the Block Plan -- students take one course per month, pretty much making all learning into a seminar -- CC offers a spectacular location near the base of Pike's Peak, an unbending commitment to liberal arts and a breath of fresh air amidst the state of Colorado's football-factory approach to higher education. But this does result in 59-0 scores.
Bonus Obscure Score: Northwest Missouri State 31, Truman State 24. Northwest Missouri takes home the Hickory Stick, the oldest Division II football trophy. Located in Kirksville, Mo., Truman State offers "an Ivy League education at an affordable price" and like, so far as TMQ can determine, every single institution of higher learning in the United States other than Colorado College, it claims to have finished high in the infamous US News college rankings.
Affordable majors include pre-law, pre-med, pre-engineering and "pre-physician's assistant/exercise science," which perhaps is attractive to the football team members. Exercise science? Controlled studies of situps? TMQ warns students away from the affordable journalism major. Aspiring writers should have a general liberal-arts background; see a cogent argument against the journalism major.
Double Bonus Obscure Score: Wabash 51, Oberlin 9. On an 8-118 streak, Oberlin the previous week had defeated Kenyon by a final of 56-17. This represents a minus-81 point swing for Oberlin in just one week and once again raises the musical question, How bad is Kenyon?
Triple Bonus Obscure Score: Christopher Newport 20, Methodist 9. One single guy defeated an entire denomination.
Nice Little BCS You Have There, Too Bad If Anything Should Happen to It: Note from TMQ to the mavens of the BCS: Tweak the computer criteria now. If Notre Dame finishes undefeated and does not play for the national championship, which could happen on the current course, the BCS is history.
New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses returns to its habitual 0-14 in its triumphant attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-635 since TMQ began tracking.
Last week when the Times broke its 0-621 streak and finally recorded a correct prediction -- bear in mind this was the streak since TMQ began tracking at the beginning of the 2000 season; most likely the Paper of Guesses went much longer without being right -- readers were promised an assessment of the odds of predicting an exact final NFL score.
First, reader Scott Yonts of Green Bay, Wis., engaged in an incredibly scientifically advanced attempt to determine how many possible final scores there are. Limiting the range to the most regular-season points scored by any team (72, the Persons versus Jersey/A in 1966), the most total points scored by two teams (113, in that same game) and the most points scored in a shutout (64, by Philadelphia in 1934), then computing the permutations, Yonts determined there are 4,672 possible pairs of scores. (Pairs in the sense that you can't just pick an outcome of 23-20, you have to pick Team A 23, Team B 20.) Because the Times struck gold on its 621st try since TMQ began tracking, the paper would appear to have done better than chance.
But aha! Yonts' breakdown assumes there is an equal probability that an NFL game will end 65-62, or 70-3, or with any number set within the range, than ending in one of the likely outcomes such as 20-14 or 27-21. The Times, TMQ feels, really shouldn't get statistical credit for never predicting that a game will end 70-3. Reader Steve of Mesquite, Texas, proposes that the Times would have been better off endlessly predicting that every game would finish 17-14. In haiku,
Times should guess every
game 17 to 14.
Sometime will be right.
-- Steve, Mesquite, Texas
Reader Bill Davidson of Cambridge, Mass., hit the books and discovered that if the Times had endlessly predicted that every game would end 21-17, it would have been right seven times since TMQ began tracking, as this score has happened seven times since 2000. Next-best choices, Davidson reports, were 17-10 (six times) and 21-14 (four times).
But why stop here when you could have lots of confusing math? Judge Frank Easterbrook, Official Brother of TMQ, estimates there are about 500 plausible score-pairs in NFL contests. On the surface, if there are 500 plausible final score-pairs, and it took the Times 622 tries to get one right, the paper finished somewhat behind random chance. The Official Brother presents this incredibly scientifically advanced analysis of why the performance was worse:
1. If there are 250 plausible scores according to the rules of football (which exclude 7-1), the usual scoring modes (which exclude 5-4), and the length of the contest (which excludes 97-82), and thus 500 plausible score pairs (score + winner in each game), and 622 games, then (499/500)^622 = 0.288. So if the Times is choosing randomly, there is a 71 percent chance of one hit in that span.
2. If the Times' incredible insider acumen doubles the odds (by knowledge of teams, injuries, trends etc.) then we have (249/250)^622 = 0.0827. That's about a 92 percent chance that the Times would have one hit in the span.
3. Someone who had enough football skill to rule out three-quarters of the plausible scores would produce (124/125)^622 = 0.007, or a 99.3 percent chance of a hit in 622 tries. It is safe to say that the Times is not improving on chance, and it may be doing worse than chance.
So someone making 622 guesses within the range of 250 plausible scores would have a 99.3 percent chance of being right at least once -- TMQ loves that Mr. Spock-style decimal-place precision. Next week, TMQ will begin nagging other newspapers, touts and sports websites that are never right when they predict exact final scores.
Transaction of the Week: Michael Jordan's Washington Wizards traded Chris Whitney to Denver for George McCloud, then immediately cut McCloud, though they had just acquired his guaranteed contract that specifies McCloud be paid $2.6 million if waived. What was the point of all this? To get Whitney's contract off the Wizards salary cap for the year 2003-04. McCloud's guaranteed deal expired sooner than Whitney's guaranteed deal, and the team was willing to hand a $2.6 million check to McCloud to be rid of its larger obligations to Whitney. McCloud keeps the money even if he signs on with another NBA team. Two point six million dollars from total strangers for doing nothing; nice work if you can get it.
Reader Animadversion: Regarding last week's TMQ thought for the day -- "Has a single person in the whole of human history attended a party that is actually like the parties depicted in Coors ads?" -- reader Aaron D. of Windsor, Ontario, answers yes: Hugh Hefner.
Reader Scott Piehler of Atlanta points out that the puppet in the Emmitt Smith commercials is Alf, not a Muppet. Alf is now the spokes-puppet for the 10-10-220 service, which is owned by MCI, which is owned by WorldCom. TMQ mentions this solely to create a cheap, flimsy excuse for the ESPN.com art department to add another "Women of WorldCom" cheesecake picture.
Bill Lester of Merritt Island, Fla., notes of TMQ's use of the maxim "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades" that there is one other activity in which close counts: lap dancing. Now Bill, any cheap, flimsy excuse for cheesecake is fine with this column, but do you seriously expect a lap-dancer photo? TMQ wonders if Bill Lester has some personal experience in this area, given that between its supply of beach-bred babes and libertine local ordinances, Florida is viewed as lap-dancing cloud nine. Which will actually be the subject of an upcoming TMQ item! Note to ESPN.com art department -- I'll provide the cheap, flimsy excuse, you provide the picture.
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TMQ Challenge: Anticipating Emmitt's record, last week's Challenge was to name the best-ever running back. Unlike the previous Challenge on best-ever defensive ends, which drew a wide diversity of suggestions, in this case nearly all respondents zeroed in on the big four: Emmitt, Sweetness, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. Michael Kaminski of Milwaukee lamented that Bo Jackson might have become best had it not been for injuries and the baseball distraction. Jim Keenan of Berkeley, Calif., noted that Gale Sayers not only juked away from defenders but faked out the cameraman more than any back ever. A few readers tossed out the names Marcus Allen, Eric Dickerson, Thurman Thomas and "Refrigerator" Perry, the latter somewhat limited by having eight lifetime carries. E.C. Greenwood of Tacoma, Wash., said Earl Campbell ought to be on the list solely for the famous play on which he ran out of his own jersey. Otherwise it was all Barry, Emmitt, Walter and Brown -- 126 pages single-spaced of various arguments for these gentlemen.
First, Sanders. Many readers, including James Newman of Lynchburg, Va., lauded Sanders as fastest-ever, in straight-line, cutback speed and his blur-fast feet. Nduka Ibekwe of Orange, N.J., lauded Sanders' famed one-shoe touchdown run, and noted that Barry played most of his career without a lead-blocking fullback to take out the first obstacle. Many readers noted that had Sanders not walked away with his puzzling premature retirement, he might have passed Sweetness by a substantial margin and we would not now be having this debate. Adam Closson of Stockholm, Sweden, zeroed in on the fact Sanders played most of his career on crummy teams; imagine what he would have done on the high-quality teams Smith ran for. A reader summed the lesser-teammates argument in haiku,
If Barry Sanders
ran behind the Cowboys' line?
-- Brent McIntosh, New York
But TMQ wonders, why were his teams always so crummy -- wasn't Sanders partly to blame? He was self-centered, aloof, concerned exclusively with his stats. Sanders refused to block -- became angry on the couple of occasions coaches tried to put in plays in which he was a blocker or a decoy -- and never learned anything in the passing game beyond the screen pass. He staged unexplained walkouts, and was often uncommunicative; frequently denounced the Lions in public and endlessly complained about his pay, though Sanders was always among the best-paid backs. Then he got mad, took his ball and went home.
In short, Barry Sanders was a jerk, and his me-first character is a reason the Lions usually were losers with him on the field. In a weird way, you sensed Sanders actually wanted the Lions to be losers, so he'd be the only exciting thing about the team and so he would never be tested under the ultimate pressure of the Super Bowl. Remember how poorly Sanders performed in his few postseason tests -- such as his minus-1 yard rushing day against Green Bay in the 1994 playoffs? Whenever the pressure was on, Barry folded.
As for the peculiar snap retirement, it was his choice to walk away, of course, though Sanders seemed incapable of doing so with class -- he walked away denouncing his teammates and the city that had cheered for him, plus, of course, complaining about money. Sanders turned his back on the game that made him famous and wealthy; TMQ here turns his back on Sanders.
Next, Jim Brown. Only sixth all time in yards, and may slip to nine as Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk have reasonable shots at passing him. Brown was the greatest highlight-reel back. There were times when the old Browns (before they became the new Browns, and now the new Oranges) were just handing it to Brown, defenders knew that was going to happen and nobody could tackle the guy. Brown put up big numbers at a time when defenses were totally oriented toward stopping the run, and has the highest yards-per-carry average among all-time top runners. Readers haikuize,
Jim Brown: The only
top back ever to average
5-plus per carry.
-- Jeff Nye, Cleveland
Jim Brown played only
nine years, had 12,000 yards.
No one can touch that.
-- David Scardaville, Houston
Forget all the stats.
In order to compare them,
watch them play the game
-- Drew Malakoff, New York
Like Sanders, Brown walked away too soon, but at least Brown offered an explanation -- that he was tired of playing a game for a living, and wanted the glamour of an acting career. Also, he mistakenly thought he'd set marks no one could equal. Brown ended up performing in a lot of bad blaxploitation flicks -- "The Dirty Dozen" is his only film anyone remembers -- and getting into numerous petty beefs with the Los Angeles police. What to make of his black-power politics? Brown supported anti-gang programs in Los Angeles, and initiatives to help African-American small business. But he undercut his chances of being a serious political figure by appearing in so many silly B-movies, and ended up enviously denouncing figures such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley for being more successful in business than he was.
Next there's Emmitt, man of the hour. Rarely hath the football gods produced better. Power-rushing, breakaway speed (people forgot how many long runs he had), good blocker, skilled receiver. Excellent overall football smarts, and a leader by example. Everything the self-absorbed Sanders lacked in terms of helping motivate teammates, Smith had. The three Super Bowl rings Smith wears attest to the team-oriented nature of his game and the positive impact he had on those around him. Emmitt Smith has an excellent case for being best back of all time. There is only one reason he is not: Walter Payton.
Sweetness is the best.
The most heart, did more with less.
Out of bounds? Never!
-- Dave Ramos, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Payton and Smith each ran for roughly the same stats in the same number of games, but Payton played with less able teammates. Consider Smith's magnificent supporting cast, at least eight others from his offense making the Pro Bowl -- Aikman, Allen, Irvin, Johnson, Newton, Novacek, Stepnoski, Tuinei, am I missing anyone? -- versus the basically average supporting cast for Sweetness. Jim McMahon, for example, was an average quarterback rendered potent by lining up next to a guy defenses were terrified of. Payton is both the Bears' all-time rusher and all-time receiver, and for good measure the best option-back ever, throwing eight TD passes. He was the best blocker of the elite RBs. He played tirelessly, never complained during the Chicago lean years, and was rewarded by the football gods with a ring.
As Greg Kelley of Great Falls, Mont., notes, Payton sat out for injury only once in his career, and always said his best-ever play was not a run but a block thrown for a teammate in a 1985 contest against the Vikings. Plus we have to be a bit sentimental, since Sweetness is now in Asgard, enjoying song and feasting with the football gods. Payton was best-ever -- who else would you pick to start a team? -- and this week's Challenge goes to Greg Kelley.
This Week's Challenge We've done best-ever DE and RB, and there's no need to do best-ever WR, as TMQ would allow only one nominee. How about, Who was the best-ever long snapper? Submit your nominee and clever reasoning here.
Perhaps you protest, "This one's hard." That's why it's called a Challenge!Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is believed to be the first Brookings scholar ever to write a pro football column. You can buy his football book, the incredibly cleverly titled "Tuesday Morning Quarterback," here.