By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Say this about the City of Tampa Buccaneers: They saved the best for last. Sports lore holds that great teams play their best game as their last game, and the Bucs passed that test. Some clubs arrive at the Super Bowl thinking, "Okay, we're here, better not blow it." Others arrive thinking, "This is what it has all been building up to," and play their finest game ever. That's what the Patriots did in the Super Bowl last year, what the Ravens did in the Super Bowl the year before that, what the Broncos did against the Packers a few years earlier, what the Cowboys did against the Bills a few years before that.

Great teams develop a belief that everything is leading toward one magnificent performance. Tampa showed that spirit Sunday. Coulda-been-great teams view getting to the Super Bowl as their vindication and, of course, hope to play well, but are not totally focused. The thought "oh well, we'll get the ball back" runs through the minds of coulda-been-great teams at the Super Bowl -- Buffalo of the 1990s, Minnesota of the 1970s -- while for the great teams every play, every second-and-six, is the single most important thing the players have ever done in their lives.

Great teams understand that all of their hard work transpired exclusively to create the moment of championship, and that they must leave everything on the field. Tampa left everything on the field Sunday; the Raiders left quite a bit back at the hotel, if not in safety-deposit boxes in Switzerland. The Buccaneers may never play like that again, and if they don't it doesn't matter. They saved the best for last.

These things said, to TMQ the determining factors were not the Tampa zone nor the big interceptions, but the Tampa offensive game plan and the breakdown of the Raiders' offensive line. Throw in rookie coach Bill Callahan going fraidy-cat with what may be the Single Worst Call in Super Bowl history, and you've got a formula for being punched out. Let's take these in turn.

Tampa's Offensive Game Plan: A top defense stopped a top offense for the nth consecutive time in the Super Bowl. But the performance of the Bucs' offense was as important.

Bear in mind that it was Tampa 6, Oakland 3 in the middle of the second quarter, very much anybody's game. Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden then did the smartest thing a Super Bowl coach could possibly do -- he took TMQ's advice. Last week, TMQ's Super Bowl prediction was, "The game will be won by whichever team surprises the other with a rushing-oriented game plan." At the eight-minute mark of the second, Gruden switched out of an ineffective hurry-up passing game and went to the ground game.

The Bucs put in two tight ends, while, much to TMQ's pleasure, Pro Bowl "fullback" Mike Alstott actually lined up at fullback and threw blocks. For the remainder of the half, Tampa rushed 11 times for 49 yards, threw five times for 43 yards and picked up three first downs on Oakland penalties, as the Raiders defense, expecting a pass-wacky look, seemed to have no idea how to respond to power running. Tampa scored touchdowns on both these second-quarter possessions when it went to the ground, making the count 20-3 at halftime. Everything about the switch to running worked. Two touchdowns in two possessions; Oakland's offense kept off the field while the clock ground; Oakland down 20-3 at the half, its drip-drip-drip attack not designed for comebacks.

Mike Alstott
Looks like the Raiders forgot about Alstott.

Then, on his first possession of the second half -- knowing the Raiders spent halftime adjusting to the run -- Gruden went play-action, to fine effect. Tampa's first possession of the second half was an 89-yard, eight-minute touchdown drive that put the Bucs ahead 27-3 and caused TMQ to write the words "game over" in his notebook, though considerable entertainment remained. On that drive, the Bucs ran seven times and passed seven times, four of them play-action. This was masterful manipulation of an opponent. The effect carried over to help Tampa's defense; the Oakland offense lost heart trying to climb out of a scoreboard hole.

As for TMQ having called this shot -- I am available, my price is two No. 1s, two No. 2s and $8 million.

Oakland's Cover-Your-Eyes Offensive Line: Just how bad was Raiders Pro Bowl tackle Lincoln Kennedy, winner of the TMQ Non-QB Non-RB MVP award? Game tied at three in the first, Oakland on the Tampa 43. Kennedy barely so much as brushes Simeon Rice as he blows in to pressure Rich Gannon into throwing a pick; Kennedy looked like he was courteously stepping aside for the Queen's carriage. Instead of Oakland moving into scoring range, the Bucs drive for a field goal the other way. Kennedy gave up two sacks, had no push and once appeared simply to let go of Warren Sapp to give him a free shot at Gannon as the pass was released. Maybe the international publicity and nonstop mega-babes went to Kennedy's head after he was named TMQ Non-QB Non-RB MVP, but he looked seriously awful. On one snap, Tampa's Greg Spires blew past Kennedy to sack Gannon. Spires is a waiver-wire gentlemen who has bounced around the league. Kennedy made him look like Derrick Thomas in his prime.

The desertion of Raiders Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins -- see Single Worst Play below -- was treated by bobbleheads and sportswriters as an odd sidebar, but may have been the determining moment of the Super Bowl. Oakland denied that the disappearance of a key player on the night for the Super Bowl had any affect, but that's complete hooey. Pregame, the team was visibly deflated by this distraction, and by knowing it would take the field short-handed. Once the whistle sounded, the Long Johns offensive line played its worst game of the year.

TMQ has done several items on the fact that OL play is the essence of Oakland's league-leading offense. Rich Gannon was sacked on average less than twice per game during the regular season, despite the Raiders passing constantly, and as important, consistently had time to scan defenses and wait for those infuriating Oakland "rub" routes to develop. In the Super Bowl, Gannon was under constant pressure, sacked five times and forced into numerous hurried throws that went clang, or into the wrong hands.

The Oakland OL produced one of the worst blocking performances TMQ has ever winced through, in part because its schemes were disrupted. On most plays, one of the guards, Mo Collins or Frank Middleton, helped reserve center Adam Treu handle his man, leaving the Raiders' tackles "on islands." Left tackle Barry Sims usually gets guard help. With Robbins out and Treu getting the help, Sims was cover-your-eyes, too, on two occasions barely so much as waving at Rice before the gentleman blew in to paste Gannon.

Lincoln Kennedy
Kennedy looked more like a matador than TMQ MVP.

On the first Tampa sack, for example, four minutes into game and the Raiders facing third-and-seven, Sims let Rice fly by, at best gesturing in his direction. The Raiders had five blocking four on that play, and Gannon was sacked before he could finish his drop-back. On another sack, Middleton turned to help Sims with Rice; but no one even touched Warren Sapp, who blew in to paste Gannon. Tampa blitzed eight times in the game, meaning there were usually at least five Raiders blockers on four Bucs rushers. Nevertheless, protection was awful.

Note that the game's final phase, when the Tampa defensive line was tired and Gannon had time to scan the field, the Raiders put up two fairly easy-looking touchdowns. Once Gannon had time, suddenly his offense was powerful again and the City of Tampa defense was human again. What we saw in the final 17 minutes of the Super Bowl was the tight, tense, exciting duel we would have seen through the entire game, had Robbins not flaked out and the Oakland line played per usual. In this sense, by disappearing AWOL, Robbins not only shafted his teammates, he shafted the nation, depriving us of a tight, tense, exciting Super Bowl.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkk! It's 20-3 at the half and everything has gone wrong for the Raiders. But they still have the league's top offense and get the ball to start the second half. They know that if they put up two scores, the pressure will shift to Tampa's underwhelming offense.

Oakland takes the kick, runs three plays and faces fourth-and-two on its 35. Bill Callahan sends in the punting unit. No! No! A thousand times no! You're behind by 17 and must make something happen. There's no tomorrow, there is no ranking computer that gives credit for margin of victory or defeat. The Raiders have the No. 1 offense; if the No. 1 offense can't gain two yards, you might as well concede and go get a blueberry-almond martini and watch the ships put out to sea. This is the Super Bowl, there is no tomorrow. Why are you punting?

Over TMQ's house, the sky darkened and lightning flashed on this play as the football gods showed their displeasure. TMQ was screaming at the tube, "No! No!" The football gods exacted prompt revenge; Tampa took the punt and staged the 89-yard, eight-minute drive that made it 27-3 and caused TMQ to write the words "game over" in his notebook. As I wrote, I felt that the football gods were controlling my hand.

Rich Gannon
Gannon was running for dear life for most of the night.

TMQ endlessly rails against fraidy-cat NFL coaches who punt when way behind, in order to avoid criticism. (If the players lose, it's their fault, but if the coach orders a gamble and the gamble fails, it's his fault.) Sure fourth-and-two is a risk, but down by 17, you've got to take some chances, and you won't find many chances more attractive than fourth-and-two. Plus there's no tomorrow. Plus it's the Super Bowl. Why are you punting?

Callahan might have been better off gambling and losing than punting. When coaches try for it in situations like these, they are challenging their own players to win the game. When coaches go fraidy-cat in situations like these, they are announcing that the coaches have quit, so the players might as well too.

After touchdowns made it Tampa 34-9, then 34-15, then 34-21 late in the third through the mid-fourth, Callahan never ordered an onside kick, either. Sure an onside is a gamble. But you're behind and time is running out and it's the Super Bowl. Why aren't you playing to win rather than for a respectable final margin of defeat? Driven to mighty fury, the football gods denied Oakland even that.

Cheerleader of the Week No. 1: In the Super Bowl spirit, the column will name two, and the first TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Danielle Dolen of City of Tampa. According to her team bio, Dolen is a college student whose favorite place to go is South Beach in Miami -- in this age of free-agent cheer-babes, perhaps the Dolphins will recruit her. South Beach is among the world's top gawking locations for men wishing to gawk babes; maybe there are ripped ultra-hunks there too for women to gawk, but, come to think of it, I've never noticed. Danielle admits to having once passed herself off as Britney Spears. Why, we'd know that navel anywhere!

Danielle
Super Bowl champs, cheerleader of the week -- it's a dream come true.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All: Super Bowl tied at three at the end of the first quarter, Oakland faced third-and-two on the City of Tampa 43. It's anybody's game. The Bucs stopped a short run on the previous play, so won't be expecting another run, and they have the league's No. 1 pass defense, while their run defense is human. You can't win the Super Bowl unless you can run for two yards; plus, given the field position, if you pick up one yard, then you go for it on fourth. Run! Instead it's an empty-backfield roll-out play, Rich Gannon sprints backwards, bad pass, intercepted, Tampa scores on its possession. You can't win the Super Bowl if you can't run for two yards.

At the start of the third quarter the Raiders again faced third-and-two and again Gannon sprinted backward, this time for an incompletion. You can't win the Super Bowl if you can't run for two yards.

Single Worst Play of Super Bowl XXXVII: The Single Worst Play happened on Saturday when Robbins went AWOL. At this writing it remained unclear why. Maybe Robbins has some genuine psychological affliction that we should not judge; maybe he's an incredible jerk. Whatever the reason, he totally shafted over his team, setting up its offensive line for its collapse.

Stat of the Week: The Tampa defense outscored the Oakland offense, 21-15.

Stat of the Week No. 2: In three playoff games, the Buccaneer defense allowed three touchdowns while scoring four touchdowns.

Stat of the Week No. 3: Oakland recorded 19 yards rushing.

Stat of the Week No. 4: Bill Romanowski became the 12th player to appear in five Super Bowls. Just one gentleman has played in six: Mike Lodish. You knew that, right?

Stat of the Week No. 5: Jerry Rice acquired one of the few possible records he does not already own, most touchdowns in postseason play -- 22 -- passing Thurman Thomas and Emmitt Smith.

Stat of the Week No. 6: Tampa can't run? The 2003 NFL postseason rushing leader was Michael Pittman of the Bucs.

Michael Pittman
Sorry fantasy fans, Pittman was the man in the playoffs.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Through its 17 games, Tampa's pass defenders allowed 11 touchdown completions while recording 40 interceptions and running back eight for touchdowns.

Stat of the Week No. 8: The cumulative passer rating of Tampa opponents through all 17 games was 44.8. Ryan Leaf's career rating was 50.

But Does She Rip Off Another Alluring Woman's Clothes Over a Miller Lite? Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas, on the Vegas ad that the NFL thumbs-downed for the Super Bowl telecast: "Sure the ad is racy. It features an alluring woman on a limousine ride through Las Vegas. But this is Vegas, after all."

The Deuce Disasters: The Raiders were right to go for deuces after every touchdown. Normally, TMQ says take the 99 percent chance of one over the 40 percent chance of two, but Oakland was so far behind it needed every point.

All three Oakland deuce attempts, however, were regular passes from regular sets. TMQ's immutable law of the goal line says that you can power-run, play-fake or rollout, but a regular pass won't work because at that point the defense has so little territory to defend. Pittsburgh, for all its faults this season, was awesome on deuce plays, because every call involved rollouts and trickery. Oakland, poised at the goal line, used a regular pass from a regular set three times and went oh-fer-three. Ay caramba.

This Week's Sci-Fi Complaint: On a recent episode of "Star Trek Enterprise," the entire crew of 83 hid in an air shaft next to the warp engines while aliens took over the ship. All sci-fi fans groan in unison: How many times have intruders taken over "Star Trek" ships? It's as if anyone boarding is handed a pamphlet titled, "Helpful Hints for Seizing Federation Vessels." My favorite occurred in an episode of "Star Trek Voyager." A sinister Hirogen seized control of Voyager by pushing aside two security guards, ripping a panel off the wall and punching some buttons really fast. On the bridge, Tom immediately yelled, "I've lost helm control!" Set aside that the Hirogen knew exactly where to look, exactly how to operate a control panel designed using the technology of another planet and exactly what codes to punch in. Where was the secret master control panel located? In the mess hall, behind the wok! Apparently, Federation starships are engineered so that anyone can seize control from the kitchen.

But what really drives TMQ nuts about science fiction is the enormity of the air shafts. Eighty-three men and women hide in an air shaft; there's sufficient space for them to play cards and set up bunks. In another episode this fall, the Enterprise had been taken over by yet a different set of aliens. Hoshi had to recover control by crawling through air shafts which turned out to take her anywhere on the ship and were large enough for a person, though ostensibly all the shafts are for is ventilation. In a 1960s episode, Kirk and Spock escaped from a 23rd-century prison by crawling out through the air shaft. A prison had an air shaft large enough to crawl through, covered by a grate easily popped off.

Enterprise
"Don't worry guys, Ziggy will leap us out of here."

Related complaint: Countless times on the Kirk, Janeway, Sisko, Picard and now Archer iterations of "Star Trek," there have been scenes in which our imprisoned heroes discuss in detail their escape plans -- as if future societies could build faster-than-light starcruisers, but had no idea how to put a microphone in a jail cell.

Last year, in an episode of the Showtime series "Stargate SG1," the good guys were captured by the highly advanced evil species that threatens to enslave the galaxy. Thrown into the brig aboard a starcruiser of the highly advanced evil species that threatens to enslave the galaxy, almost immediately they unscrewed a huge, flimsy panel that easily popped off and led to an air shaft large enough for several people to crawl through simultaneously. The air shaft was so commodious, it might have had a hamburger stand and a drive-through car wash.

Look around your home, workplace or starcruiser. If there is forced-air ventilation, the vent is a few inches across. Maybe there's a large main shaft somewhere, but how would you get to it? We're supposed to believe that something in future engineering causes designers to build air shafts wide enough for a dune-buggy race, and to do so even on starcruisers, where presumably space is at a premium. The sole sci-fi air shaft TMQ ever found believable was the one on the alien flagship of the aliens-invade-Earth novel "Footfall," which would make a much better Hollywood flick than most of what gets produced. The air shafts were believable because the aliens in this case were highly advanced pachyderms; everything aboard their ship was gigantic in human terms.

Speaking of the "Stargate" serial, TMQ is willing to suspend disbelief on its central premise: that a highly advanced evil species threatening to enslave the galaxy uses teleportation gates on various worlds, and that the plucky, wise-cracking team of American commandos figures out how to employ the gates to travel to distant planets without the highly advanced evil species being able to stop them. But while TMQ will suspend disbelief on that premise -- otherwise, no serial -- I put my foot down regarding the recent X303 episode.

Turns out that the Air Force has built the X303, an enormous starcruiser with a faster-than-light drive system copied from an alien ship that crashed in Wyoming. What happens in the episode? Suspicious persons seize control of the ship -- though not from the kitchen -- and blast off for deep space. How do they accomplish this? The X303 is unguarded.

Now if the Air Force possessed an actual starship, and if the Earth was in danger of invasion by a highly advanced evil species that threatens to enslave the galaxy, that ship would be considered pretty important, right? Yet a handful of people with sidearms effortlessly steal the ship. (Colonel O'Neill, lead character in "Stargate," promptly bellows, "I can't believe this happened!" Colonel: in science fiction, spaceships are always getting taken over.) To top it off, the X303 hyperdrive works perfectly, though the ship has never been flight-tested and, presumably, was built by the same defense contractor who just announced the latest cost overruns and delays for the F22.

Celine Dion
"I'm touched, eh. Beers are on me."

Peter Jennings Should Have Introduced Her: "God Bless America" was sung before the Super Bowl by Celine Dion, a Canadian. The NFL officially billed her as an "international singer". TMQ found it discordant, to say the least, to hear someone who isn't an American belting out "God bless America, my home, sweet home!" at a quintessentially American event. Was there no American citizen capable of rendering this tune?

Raiders: Don't Walk Out Over This One, Okay? Going for two after making it 34-21 with six minutes left, Oakland threw to Jerry Porter, who appeared to catch it in the air and be pushed out. TMQ thought it was a classic force-out and that the catch should have counted; the zebra on the scene thought otherwise; Callahan challenged and announcers talked about how a force-out cannot be reviewed, as by quirk, some rulings including force-out are not subject to review; after review, the play stood as called, no catch. Please, Raider Nation, don't claim this is more evidence of the international Zionist-Hindu conspiracy against you. (When TMQ lived in Pakistan, local newspapers were full of talk of "Zionist-Hindu" schemes to control the world.)

Everyone missed that the zebra on the scene did not rule that Porter was out of bounds -- he ruled pass incomplete. Porter held the ball, flew through the air and then, as he came down, the ball hit the ground and bounced. NFL rules now say that if a receiver catches in the air and appears to have possession and control, but the ball bounces when he hits the ground, it's incomplete. TMQ has doubts about that rule -- in common-sense terms, Porter's play looked good to me. Just as, in common-sense terms, Charles Woodson sure made Tom Brady fumble in the Snow Bowl. But in terms of the rules, Brady didn't fumble and Porter did not make the catch. Zebras were right both times.

The only reason referee Bill Carollo allowed the Raiders to challenge is that what they were challenging was a ruling of incompletion, not force-out: a complete/incomplete judgment can be reversed. All you had to do to know this was to watch the zebra immediately give the sign for incompletion, not the sign for receiver out of bounds.

Cheerleader of the Week No. 2: In the bipartisan Super Bowl spirit, the co-TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Rebecca Guerrero of the Raiders. Born in Oakland to parents from Guadalajara Jalisco, Guerrero has sung the National Anthem both at Raiders games and at sports events in Mexico. According to her team bio, Guerrero's hobbies are working out, water skiing and "shopping with a fetish for shoes." Wait, a mega-babe has a shoe fetish? Isn't it supposed to be middle-aged chain-smoking French matinee actors who have shoe fetishes?

Rebecca
The Imelda Marcos of cheerleaders.

Sweet Play of the Day: Leading 13-3, Tampa had first-and-goal on the Oakland five with 34 seconds in the half. Receiver Keenan McCardell split right, covered by Charles Woodson. For this situation, NFL teams have fallen in love with the "fade," in which the receiver runs shallow to the pin at the corner of the end zone, looking over his shoulder back across the defender. McCardell took off as if for a fade, and Woodson turned to defend a ball coming over his head. Brad Johnson then deliberately underthrew the pass, and McCardell turned the other way to catch it behind his body as Woodson kept watching for the fade action. This is a modern variation on the old deliberate-underthrow that Joe Namath used to Don Maynard, on plays that cornerbacks thought were fly patterns, and it was the beauty play of the Super Bowl.

Sweet Play If It Had Come, Oh, Two Quarters Sooner: Oakland trailing 34-15 with six minutes left, Gannon hit Jerry Rice on beauty post route for a 48-yard touchdown and the Raiders' last-gasp. Fifty-four minutes had ticked off the clock, and this was the only the second time Gannon had thrown down the deep middle. No one has ever beaten a two-deep zone defense by throwing nothing but outs and to the short middle, which is what the Raiders had tried to this point. The post is Rice's best route -- remember how he killed the Bolts with it in the Niners-Chargers Super Bowl? -- yet Oakland had Rice spend the day running sideways. Yumpin' jiminy.

Chat Joke Saved From Dustbin of History: Here is the transcript of one exchange during TMQ's appearance on the ESPN.com live chat last Friday:

Yonaton (Buffalo): Gregg, is it fair to compare Mike Brown to Kim Jong Il? Think about it: famous dads, old-school philosophies that run their respective organizations into the ground, aloofness. What would happen if they switched places for a year? Would Brown refuse to hire spies?

Gregg Easterbrook: Yonaton, if Mike Brown and Kim Jong Il switched places, the North Korean economy would decline, while all Bengals would begin to glow from the plutonium hidden in the locker room.

Precision Blitzing: Though many local-newscast-class sportswriters attributed the dominant City of Tampa defensive performance to blitzing, the Bucs blitzed eight times on 55 Oakland snaps -- 15 percent blitzing, less than the league average of about 20 percent. But when Tampa did blitz, it was often effective because, rather than blitz on third-and-long as every NFL offensive coordinator expects every defensive coordinator to do, the Bucs blitzed when the Raiders weren't expecting it.

Monte Kiffin
Don't be fooled by the ring that he's got. He's still Monte from the block.

Monte Kiffin did not call his first blitz until the 10-minute mark of the second quarter, and it came on a first-and-10. Gannon appeared so rattled by a corner blitz on a non-blitz down that he sailed the ball right to Dexter Jackson for the interception, though Gannon had time. On the first snap of Oakland's next possession, again first-and-10 and the first play after a corner blitz -- you'd never expect that twice in a row, right? -- Kiffin called the same thing, forcing Gannon to throw the ball away.

And In My Memories, I Was Constantly Being Asked Out by Hot Babes: After Oakland missed its third of three two-point conversion attempts and trailed by 13 instead of 10 points as it would have been had the Raiders taken singletons, John Madden reminisced, "When I was coaching in this league, I never went for two until the very end, regardless of the scoreboard. I believed in always taking one point unless it was the very end."

Surely, Madden is in sync with TMQ's immutable law of the conversion: Take One Till the Fourth. But John -- when you were a head coach, there was no two-point option. Madden ran the Raiders from 1969 to 1978. The old AFL two-point rule was ended when the AFL and old NFL merged in 1967. The deuce conversion option was not reinstated until 1994.

Jesus Said, "How Hard It Will Be for Those Who Have Wealth to Enter the Kingdom of God" The gift shop of the new $190 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles sells a house chardonnay for $24.95 per bottle. The main doors of the Cathedral weigh 25,000 pounds each, while the altar "is made from a six-ton, thick slab of Turkish Rosso Laguna marble and was fabricated, cut, polished and shipped from Carrara, Italy. Because of its size, the altar had to be lowered 128 feet into the Cathedral by crane before the roof was installed." The Cathedral's conference center is "equipped with full catering services, can be utilized for business meetings, cocktail parties, wedding receptions, galas, and seminars. Guided Cathedral tours with lunch from the simple to the elaborate are also an option. Parking is convenient and easy, located directly under the Conference Center with weekday space for several hundred cars. Valet parking is available for evening or Saturday events."

TMQ doesn't mean to offend Catholics; lots of Protestants (and members of all other religions) are hypocritical about wealth. Still, it's a good bet Jesus would look on this monument to money in horror.

New Yorker, CNBC, What's the Difference? Tina Brown, who at one point was going to rule the publishing world, will now produce financial specials for CNBC ("The Network for People Who Can't Get On MSNBC").

$72, $4, What's the Difference? Missing from Super Bowl advertising was another big-budget E*Trade chimpanzee commercial, breaking a four-year string. Remember the E*Trade Super Bowl ad that showed the chimpanzee crying while surveying a wasteland of failed dot-coms, such as TieClasp.com? That commercial ended with the legend, "INVEST WISELY." Let's hope you took the message to heart and did not invest in E*Trade, which has fallen from $72 to $4. TieClasp.com was probably a smarter buy. Last week E*Trade's CEO Christos Cotsakos resigned in disgrace -- he expropriated $59 million for himself in 2001, even as the firm was losing money. Wonder how much the chimp embezzled.

Christos Cotsakos
The chimp would have been a better CEO than Christos.

Anything You Bark May Be Used Against You in a Court of Law: Geneva, the Official Dog of TMQ -- a Chesapeake retriever, noble state dog of Maryland -- has a large heart and a brain the size of a walnut. She barks at everything, including blowing leaves. Recently, I received from the county a barking complaint against the Official Dog, on which the complainant was listed as: "neighbor, anonymous." I called the county animal control division and said, "This is America, the Constitution guarantees a right to confront your accuser! Who is this anonymous accuser?" The county animal- officer told me: "Sorry, dogs don't have Constitutional rights."

It turns out the Montgomery County animal-control division knows its law well! Federal courts have ruled that dogs have no rights. See this appellate court decision, Dye v. Wargo, finding that a dog cannot be sued and also that a dog cannot be a municipal employee. Check out this case, Miles v. Augusta, which finds that Blackie the Talking Cat must pay income taxes -- or at least, that her owners must pay a local amusement levy if they charge people fees to listen to the talking cat -- while concluding that a cat is not a person. Miles v. Augusta includes this judicious description of the judge's inspection of the defendant: "Suspecting that the cat in question was Blackie, I thought twice" before saying anything the talking feline might repeat.

Maybe it's just as well that dogs do not have Constitutional rights, as then they would have a First Amendment right to bark. Although such barking could be restricted to the Constitutionally protected topics of politics, science, the arts and personal expression, including the forms of personal expression that TMQ thanks the Supreme Court for consistently holding is safeguarded under the First Amendment, namely, naughty movies and topless dancing.

But though dogs have no rights, apparently pandas do. Last spring, D'Vera Cohn of the Washington Post asked to see the medical records of the famed pandas of the National Zoo. She was told she could not see the records, because this would violate the pandas' privacy rights! What, couldn't they sign a waiver? National Zoo officials further told Cohn that Constitutional rights apply "in principal" to animals residing in the federally owned National Zoo. Does that mean they get a lawyer? Oh, if only someone could convince the Official Dog of TMQ that she has a right to remain silent.

As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jimmy Carter Once Noted, "Life Is Unfair." The sports catalog Eastbay offers 86 authentic jerseys of NFL players, and only one is of an offensive lineman.

Lunar landing
Is that the Meadowlands in the background?

And How Can They Prove Washington Crossed the Delaware? Maybe It Was All Faked on a Sound Stage: NASA, whose space-station project is more than a billion dollars over budget, will pay a $5,000 contract cancellation fee to halt a planned pamphlet aimed at convincing people the Apollo moon landings really did occur. Apparently, NASA is actually worried about the talk-radio appearances of one Ralph Rene, a New Jersey carpenter with a self-published book saying that the moon landings were faked and also, for good measure, that Isaac Newton was wrong about the laws of motion.

Order Rene's bizarre book, "NASA Mooned America," containing "a simple arithmetic proof that Newton's gravity of attraction of mass for mass is erroneous." Go here. to order an excellent book that does not claim to disprove Newton, "Red Star In Orbit," about the old Soviet space program during the Moon-race era. "Red Star In Orbit" is by NASA-engineer-turned-writer James Oberg, who was scheduled to pen the pamphlet proving the Moon landings.

This leaves TMQ wondering two things. One, if Newton was wrong about the laws of celestial motion, wouldn't all communication satellites be spiraling off into the void? No wonder I can't get DirecTV! And second, what other claimed events need to be proven?

Reader Mike Cannon of Germantown, Maryland, recommends this site, in which astronomer Phil Plait of Sonoma State University debunks all claims that the Moon landings were faked and, for more fun, debunks movies and television shows that contain bad references to astronomy or depict space flight in ways that are physically impossible.

Modern Economics: Many coupons in newspaper food sections lately have been denominated at 55 cents. Why that curious value? Because grocery stores with coupon-doubling deals will double a coupon up to 50 cents but not above. This means a 50-cent coupon costs the manufacturer a dollar, while a 55-cent coupon looks like more yet costs the manufacturer less. Now a 30-cent coupon is worth more to the buyer, since it doubles to 60 cents, than a 55-cent coupon that stays at 55 cents. Right now the most valuable coupon is denominated at 45 cents; since it doubles to 90 cents, a 45-cent coupon is worth more than an 85-cent coupon. Only in America!

Look, Mr. Spock! Life-Form Readings on the Maine Interstate: Chomp, Inc, "inventors of pet candy,", has begun an aggressive campaign to market Yip Yap, a breath mint for dogs. Packaged in pocket-sized tins to resemble what the company calls "human breath mints" -- how can breath mints be "human?" -- Yip Yaps are promoted with testimonials such as these, from a Joan Perkins of Maryland: "I keep the Yip Yaps in my car with my Altoids so that when I take my dog to someone's house I give her a Yip Yap first."

Yip Yap
For man's wintergreen scented best friend.

TMQ lives in Maryland, and now must be ever-vigilant to avoid running into this Joan Perkins. Joan, do you get the tins confused, and give the dog Altoids while popping a few tasty Yip Yaps yourself? And just why does your dog need breath freshener so badly on social calls -- are your friends planning on kissing your dog?

Check out this company press release:

SIDNEY, Maine -- Motorists will be able to buy candy bars and dog treats from the same vending machine when they pull into rest stops along Interstate 95 in central Maine. Chomp Inc. began stocking Yip Yap, a doggie breath mint, and Sniffers, a moist chewy beef and cheese candy for dogs, alongside Reese's Nutrageous bars and Wrigley's gum at a vending machine at the northbound rest stop in Sidney.

Chomp, based in Lebanon, N.J., said it was the first company to stock dog treats in vending machines that also contain candy for humans.

The "first company in the nation to stock dog treats in vending machines that also contain candy for humans" - now there's something to boast about. And when, to candy marketers, did "people" become "humans"?

San Diego Super Bowl = Excuse for Charger Cheer-Babe: Gawk at Bolts cheerleader Angie Rameriz, a student who, sadly for the world's men, is married. According to her team bio, Rameriz says she wants to visit "all of Europe." Better hurry, Angie, since Europe gets larger every day. Just a few years ago the European Union contained 12 nations. Now it's up to 15, with 10 others to be admitted next year and many formally designated "candidate countries".

Angie
TMQ can't forget to give props to our Super Bowl hosts.

If you are of the sort who finds bureaucratese more entertaining than babes in swimsuits, check this European Union discourse on the question of whether Corsica can achieve "island status." But isn't Corsica an island regardless of what European Union committees think?

Oh Ye Mortals, Trifle Not with the Football Gods Jerry Porter of the Raiders had the incredible gall to call the Tampa defensive backs, who outscored the entire Oakland offense, "awful across the board, they're awful". The football gods will exact vengeance on Porter for this.

But note that the story, from the New York Daily News, says that not only did Jon "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Gruden play Rich Gannon in Bucs practices: he told Bucs defensive players the Raiders' audible code-words, and the Raiders came into the Super Bowl not having changed their code words. Oakland knew Gruden knew its audible codes and yet kept them! The Daily News says that during the game, when Gannon barked audibles, Tampa defenders immediately called out the play. Ye gods.

Astonishing New York Times Insider Exclusive! One of the goofy staples of American journalism is the front-page story in the New York Times which, in somber, deadpan tones, presents as a stunning revelation something absolutely everyone in the United States, European Union, Hapsburg Empire and Hanseatic League has known for years.

An exemplar of this form was a page-one piece, "Super Bowl Insiders Watch Before Snap of Ball," in last week's New York Times, purporting to give the astonishing skinny on how "insiders" would watch Tampa versus Oakland. The lead of this shocking piece -- on the front page of the world's most important newspaper! -- disclosed that "coaches and executives will scan their television screens Sunday for the tell-tale signs of strategy in the Super Bowl." Holy moly -- tell-tale signs of strategy!

And what might these signs be? "The insiders will study the battle at the line of scrimmage, getting a general sense of where the holes are." Wow -- talk about insider information, who knew that? Insiders further possess the astounding knowledge that if quarterbacks hold the ball too long, "It means their receivers are covered ... and eventually, the pass protection will break down." Hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite, who could have known this! Insiders possess additional earth-shaking insights, such as, "They will look to see if there is a running back behind the quarterbacks," because if the backfield is empty, "this will put more pressure on the defense." Hey, if an empty backfield puts more pressure on the defense, why don't teams always go empty? Only the insiders know!

"The insiders" also have some puzzling exclusive information. Much of the piece dwelled on corner Ronde Barber coming up to the line in the Bucs-Eagles NFC championship. Insiders know, according to the Times, that he "repeatedly blitzed from this position." Funny, Barber blitzed twice in that game. The Times further asserted that having Barber come to the line was a "radical twist" insiders had never before seen. Funny, a corner has come to the line in almost every game that Monte Kiffin has coached the City of Tampa defense during the past the seven years. In December 2001, when Tampa was pounded 27-3 at Chicago, Barber came to the line so often the Bears killed the Bucs by throwing over Barber's head to Marty Booker, and the tactic didn't even stop the run -- Chicago rushed for 207 yards that day. Did only "insiders" know this? Ummmm, TMQ wrote a column about how the Bucs were bringing Barber to the line too often.

Bucs secondary
Apparently the Raiders coaching staff doesn't read the Times.

Best line from the preposterous "insiders" article: "Television's preoccupation with quarterbacks, coaches, nutty fans and cheerleaders" can frustrate insiders. Preoccupation with cheerleaders? It's the reverse. Get out your stopwatch during any NFL telecast on any network.

Incredible insider tip: If you want to know who's ahead, look at the scoreboard! Please don't mention this to the New York Times.

The Football Gods Chortled: TMQ hopes the evil Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder) apparated right out of his Potomac, Maryland, mansion watching Brad Johnson, the quarterback he had so cannily ordered benched and then let go, win the Super Bowl. In his final nine games this year, Johnson threw 19 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Lord Voldemort ordered him banished because, in Voldemort's canny judgment, Johnson had no arm.

TMQ Insider Exclusive! Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned on an exclusive basis that Tiki Barber played cornerback for Tampa in the Super Bowl, while Ronde Barber watched in the stands. Hey, try to prove me wrong! Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive!

Running Items Department
Final New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses ran not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but seven different predictions of the exact final Super Bowl score, and all were wrong. This makes the Final New York Times Final-Score Score 1-272 for the 2002 NFL season and a cumulative 1-833 since TMQ began tracking. (Note: Includes correction for math error TMQ discovered in an earlier column.)

Reader Jim Kupcik of Medina, Ohio, reports that some offshore sports gambling websites offer to double winners if you predict an exact final score. Kupcik asks, "As evidenced by the fact that the New York Times is 1-833 trying to do this, shouldn't the payout for predicting an exact final score be a little better?" But Jim, the whole point of gambling is to fleece you of your money. TMQ disapproves: Put your spare dollars in the bank where they belong.

Reader Animadversion: Many readers from New Zealand objected to TMQ's expression of horror at the Kiwi Burger for sale at New Zealand McDonald's. Paul Hope of Christchurch noted that "kiwi" in New Zealand usage for recipes means neither the fruit nor the flightless bird but local flavorings, as New Zealanders are sometimes known as "Kiwis." The Kiwi Burger sold in New Zealand McDonald's turns out to be a Quarter Pounder with beetroot and pineapple blended into the beef, topped by a fried egg. TMQ called this another sign of the decline of Western civilization, and I stand by my statement.

Note: owing to PC trends, it can't be long until the city of Christchurch changes its name to Inclusivechurch, New Zealand.

Many readers including Andrew Moeschberger of Hobart, Indiana, objected to last week's TMQ quote of a reader who suggested the NFL fix its overtime problems by instituting "the NHL system" of a full additional period. As Moeschberger noted, NHL overtimes are sudden-death; it just seems like they're not because they often end in ties. The reader quote should have said, "the NBA system." In haiku,

    "Fifth quarter" OT
    in NHL? Frostback sports
    lost on TMQ.
    -- Dave Sommer, Montreal

Last week, commissioner Paul Tagliabue acknowledged the overtime system needs to change. Since overtime came to pro football in 1974, 28 percent of games have ended on the first possession, but in this year's record 25 overtime games, 40 percent ended on the first possession. As Tagliabue correctly noted (hmm, there's a phrase TMQ has not exactly loaded into his AutoText), since the kickoff spot was moved back to the 30-yard line in order to improve starting field position and boost overall scoring, the team winning the overtime flip has often been only three first downs away from the field goal that wins the game without the other team ever having a possession.

Last week TMQ proposed a modified version of the NCAA alternating-possessions overtime. How's this for an alternative proposal instead:

Reader Todd Hill of Williston, Vermont, suggests that the opening overtime possession begin on a team's 20, with no kickoff. TMQ adds these details. The winner of the overtime coin toss gets a choice of the ball on its 20 or the wind, in which case the other team starts on its 20. If Team A relinquishes the ball without scoring on its initial possession (turnover, punt, missed field goal, downs), from the point at which Team B first has possession, the rest is traditional sudden death.

Paul Taglibue
"I would like the thank God that the game didn't go into OT."

But if Team A scores on the initial possession, Team B then gets the ball on its 20. If Team B exceeds Team A's score on its possession, Team B wins; if it fails to exceed Team A's score on that possession, Team A wins; if Team B matches Team A's score, overtime continues. From that point it would be traditional overtime; Team B would kick off after its matching score, and next score wins. The point of this system would be to insure that each team had at least one possession in overtime, while keeping the rest of the game (field position, turnovers, punting) as similar as possible to regular action.

Last Week's TMQ Challenge: Playing on the fact that the Minnesota Vikings are among NFL teams that ask prospective cheer-babes to submit to an interview, TMQ wondered, if you were a judge interviewing would-be cheerleaders, what question would you ask?

Ben Denker of Kansas City proposes, "If a bus is traveling 49 miles an hour northeast at 3 p.m. toward a solar eclipse, would you be willing to wear nothing but paint as an outfit?"

Jack Walter of Marlborough, Massachusetts, suggests, "What is the true airspeed of a swallow?" Monty Python fans know that the correct answer is, "African or European swallow?"

Hans-Werner Egerland Abingdon, Maryland, proposes, "Paper or plastic?"

Scott Cyr, a Navy man serving in Naples, Italy -- we know we're free because you are on guard, Scott -- suggested thus: "I would ask prospective cheer-babes to explain the infield fly rule. It has nothing to do with the NFL, but if a woman can answer that, she is not only a babe but most likely a sports goddess as well."

A la the controversy over points added for being black to applicants at the University of Michigan -- where TMQ feels it's hard to understand why this is a racial flap, since being from the beautiful, scenic, all-white Upper Peninsula of Michigan gets you the same bonus admission points as being African American -- the cryptically identified Todd of Arizona proposes this U-Mich-like point scale:

  • Are you married? (10 point deduction)
  • Are you engaged, but not really sure? (five point deduction)
  • Are you dating this guy but he's, kinda, you know -- ? (neutral)
  • Are you single? (five points added)
  • Are you single and actively in the market? (10 points added)
  • Are you single, in the market and have low standards? (makes squad)

    In a similar vein, Jason Hernandez of San Antonio says he would "ask the only meaningful question that any short, scrawny, research assistant would ask, 'Would you date a guy like me?'" Jason, don't ask that.

    Brian Lundmark of Norman, Oklahoma, suggests, "Explain the replay-reversal rule using interpretative dance."

    Brad Crawford of San Marcos, California, suggests, "What would be the diameter of the space mirror needed to power the death ray in the new Bond movie?"

    And the winner of this week's Challenge is Ron Burgess of Twinsburg, Ohio, who proposed, "If you could meet anyone in history, what would you wear?"

    This Week's Challenge: This week's Challenge is to wait patiently until next September's kickoff, when the TMQ Challenge will resume.

    Tuesday Morning Quarterback must fold his tent and steal off into the desert till next year. Yet yea, verily, do not despair. TMQ will appear sporadically during the offseason, whenever there are flimsy excuses for cheesecake photos -- I meant to say, important public-policy questions to address. My special-guest-star appearances will be scattered and unpredictable.

    No wait, check it, another one tomorrow! How's that for service? Watch tomorrow for the annual Tuesday Morning Quarterback Bad Predictions Review.

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


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