The scoreboard is spinning like never before. NFL point production is the highest ever. Baylor and TCU just played the highest scoring game ever between two Top 10 college football teams. In the NCAA, a hard-to-believe 63 college teams scored at least 50 points in the past week's action.
Is this too much of a good thing?
Football is a form of entertainment, and scoring is entertaining. "Offense sells tickets. Defense wins titles" is the folk wisdom on the topic. Most audiences would rather watch a 38-35 game than a 10-7 contest. But if scoring keeps rising, and football becomes perceived as basketball on grass, will the dramatic tension of the sport be reduced?
First, the numbers:
Through Week Six, NFL teams are averaging 23.4 points per game. That's the highest Week 6 number ever.
FBS college teams are averaging 30.2 points per game, down slightly from the record 30.4 average at the same juncture in 2013. Flashy high scoring dominated the past weekend's play. Baylor and TCU combined for 119 points and 1,267 offensive yards. The box score looks like some kind of college prank. The 93 points in the Notre Dame-UNC game were most ever at Notre Dame Stadium, which has been hosting football since Herbert Hoover was president.
Hosting Montana State, Cal-Davis had what only a few years ago would have been considered a spectacular day -- 610 offensive yards and five touchdowns. But Cal-Davis lost by 40 points because Montana State spun the scoreboard with a hard-to-believe 11 touchdowns.
This past weekend at the FBS level, seven colleges posted at least 50 points. At the FCS level, 14 did. In the large universe of Division II and Division III, 42 schools gave scorekeepers writer's cramps by putting up at least 50 points. Another seven NAIA colleges reached at least 50 points. The teams that scored 50 or more can be found here.
Scoreboards are spinning under the Friday night lights, too. A generation ago, Texas, the center of prep football culture, was home to lots of low-scoring defensive struggles. Check out Texas 5A final scores from this past Friday. Vista Ridge 56, Vandegrift 52 was not an outlier. And in a Friday night final from Arizona: Higley High 95, Apache Junction High 75.
High-scoring games actually can be boring; John Carroll 69, Wilmington 0 must have been painful to sit through. But more importantly, there's a safety concern and a philosophical concern about runaway scoring.
Higher scores derive in part from quick-snap, no-huddle tactics that increase the number of scrimmage downs. The more snaps, the more chance of injury. Quick-tempo football hasn't existed long enough to determine whether more snaps increase the degree of long-term neurological harm. But there's a worry here.
The philosophical concern is football is so exciting because every yard matters. If hitting long touchdown passes becomes perceived as easy -- whether owing to tactics or rule changes intended to promote scoring -- the dynamism of the sport might be diluted. The best football game your columnist has ever attended, and perhaps the best ever played, was the 2008 Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots. That contest ended 17-14. Every yard was struggled over, and every play was electric. Each of the four touchdowns was exciting. What if instead there'd been nine or 10 touchdowns?
Of course, if high scoring is safe and what audiences want, then let the scoreboard spin. Your columnist prefers the ancient wisdom of "all things in moderation." Football scoring is perilously close to becoming like sugar: cheap, ubiquitous and more than the doctor recommends.
In good manners news, Brett Favre has been saying nice things about the likelihood Peyton Manning will break Favre's record for most touchdown passes in a career. Sports etiquette dictates that record-holders pretend to be cheering for those who may leap-frog their names in the record books. For instance three years ago as Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees all were assaulting Dan Marino's decades-old record for passing yards in a season, Marino politely said he was rooting for them.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback thinks record-holders should root against their competition. Two years ago when Adrian Peterson drew close to surpassing Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, Dickerson said he hoped that Peterson would not. It worked! Peterson was stopped eight yards shy. If Favre truly wishes his record broken, that's one thing. Odds are he does not. So be honest!
Stats Of The Week No. 2: The Packers on a 15-2 streak in games with significant extra preparation time -- following a bye or a Thursday appearance.
Stats Of The Week No. 3: Quarterbacks Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, 2011 high draft choices who faced off at Cincinnati, are a combined 60-44-2 in the regular season and 0-4 in the postseason.
Stats Of The Week No. 4: Andrew Luck is on a pace to throw for 5,297 yards, which would be third-most ever.
Stats Of The Week No. 5: Tom Brady is 23-2 as a starter against the Bills.
Stats Of The Week No. 6: Even after defeating Pittsburgh, the Browns are on a 4-25 streak versus the Steelers.
Stats Of The Week No. 7: The Buccaneers and Jaguars are on a combined 1-17 stretch. They do not meet this season.
Stats Of The Week No. 8: Indianapolis is on a 10-0 streak in games played on Thursday.
Stats Of The Week No. 9: At 6:34 ET on Oct. 12, the Chicago Bears recorded their first rushing touchdown by a running back on the season.
Stats Of The Week No. 10: The 49ers are on a 7-0 streak on Monday Night Football.
Sweet Play Of The Week: Dallas scored to take a 27-23 lead with 3:16 remaining at Seattle, where the defending champions entered on a 19-1 run. The Seattle crowd was roaring at military-afterburner decibels. In the Bluish Men Group's previous home game, Russell Wilson ruled this situation, marching his charges the length of the field for a touchdown to win in overtime. Instead against Dallas, the defending champions went short gain, incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, Dallas ball. No mega blitzes, no funky fronts, just tight coverage -- like the Seattle defense played last season. DeMarco Murray is on fire, and Dallas rushed for 162 yards on the road against a team that had allowed 68 yards rushing combined in its previous two games. But these four snaps, three of them simply passes clanging to the ground incomplete, are the most important four snaps of the NFL season so far. Oh so sweet for the maligned Dallas defense.
Sour Play Of The Week: Sack! Sack! Sack! Sack! Sack! Sack! Sack! Sack! After giving up seven sacks in the first five games, Jersey/A allowed eight at Philadelphia. The Eagles' defense was playing well, but even against the 1985 Chicago Bears, eight sacks allowed would be sour.
Doubly Sweet 'N' Doubly Sour Sequence: Miami leading 24-20, Green Bay was down to fourth-and-10 with 1:07 remaining. TMQ noted two weeks ago, "If there's one thing that would put a smile on the face of Aaron Rodgers, it's a predictable blitz." All Miami needs is an incompletion -- surely the Dolphins won't big-blitz! They do, Green Bay converts. Green Bay would get two more first downs in the next six snaps, both against blitzes. Sweet for the visitors, sour for the home team.
Now the Packers are on the Miami 4 with six ticks remaining, out of time outs. Green Bay lines up with 6-4 tight end Andrew Quarless, who's spent most of the contest as an inline blocker, split out far to the right. Weakside linebacker Philip Wheeler, who is not accustomed to being one-on-one in space, trotted over to cover him. It was an obvious mismatch, but Miami was out of time outs. Quarless runs a simple turn-out, touchdown. Doubly sweet for the visitors, doubly sour for the home team.
Sweet-N-Sour Bonus: Before the touchdown play, Green Bay rushed to the line seemingly to spike to stop the clock. Instead Rodgers threw a 12-yard completion to position the Packers at the 4. Announcers said Rodgers faked a spike, as Dan Marino famously once did. But Rodgers did not -- he simply took the snap and hesitated an instant. The reason the play lulled the defense, and the announcers, to sleep is that the Green Bay offensive line didn't move. There's no rule that says the linemen have to move -- they are free to stand there like Stonehenge slabs.
Having the offensive linemen not move was a sweet variation on the expected spike. Sour: on the not-faked-spike play, Green Bay receiver Davante Adams was hemmed in at the 4 by Miami defensive backs Cortland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor. Instead of dragging him down on the field of play, which almost certainly would have ended the game, they shoved Adams out-of-bounds, stopping the clock.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Scoring to take an early 3-0 lead at Houston, the Colts ran the "squeeze" onside -- the placekicker kicks short and straight, waits for the ball to travel 10 yards, then falls on it. Recovered, soon a 10-point lead. Colts' coaches noticed Houston lines up to receive kickoffs with no one directly across from the placekicker, the closest man a fair distance from the target area of a squeeze onside. Sweet play following sweet film study.
Coming into the contest Indianapolis had recovered two onside kicks: the rest of the league combined was 0-for-9 in onside attempts. Yet Houston did not prepare for an onside. The Texans have a special teams coordinator, an assistant special teams coordinator and a "director of football research." Two people who do nothing all year long but work with Houston special teams, a man who does nothing all year long but "football research" -- and none of them noticed the Colts had more onside recoveries than the rest of the league combined. Sour.
Astronomers Overhear Millennium Falcon Calling The Rebel Base On Endor: Recently, an international team of astronomers recorded an extremely strong, brief radio signal that appeared to emanate from another galaxy. To travel such distance, the signal must be more than a million years old -- from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
"Exactly what may be causing such radio bursts represents a major new enigma for astrophysicists," McGill University said. As TMQ has noted about gamma-ray bursts from deep space, scientists assume any unexplained interstellar phenomena are natural in origin. Why assume that? Gamma-ray bursts may be the muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons built by other civilizations. Perhaps the extremely strong radio burst was cosmic social networking bouncing off an intergalactic cell tower.
Why Certain Teams Have Lost Nine Straight: Trailing 16-14, Jacksonville had possession on the Flaming Thumbtacks' 37 with 12 seconds remaining, out of time outs. At third-and-2, rather than try a quick sideline pass to improve field position -- 12 seconds is sufficient clock for that -- Gus Bradley sent in the field goal unit to attempt from 55 yards. Needless to say, no points.
Why Certain Teams Have Lost 23 of 25 Against Certain Quarterbacks: New England leading 23-14 early in the fourth quarter, the Flying Elvii faced third-and-12 on the Buffalo 18. Presnap, the Buffalo secondary was confused -- players were pointing at each other and shouting. Nickle safety Duke Williams turned his back to the opponents in order to argue with a teammate. Word to the wise: do not turn your back on Tom Brady. He immediately signaled for the snap and threw an easy touchdown pass to the man Williams should have guarded, turning a tight contest into a walkover. The Bills had all their time outs at that juncture. Seeing his defense discombobulated, why didn't Doug Marrone call time?
Last week at Detroit, Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz not only was carried off the field, celebrating extravagantly as if he'd just cured cancer or brought peace to the Middle East -- the embarrassing spectacle was staged because Schwartz instructed players to carry him off the field. Reader Jeff Yang of Bethesda, Maryland suggests the football gods punished this effrontery by causing Schwartz's defense to allow 37 points and get no takeaways at home versus the Bills' most important rival. New England's final six possession results: field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, kneels to conclude game.
Now In Development, X-Men: Cash Cow: "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is out on DVD and home video this week. To watch any sci-fi action movie, one must accept the premise. In the latest X-flick, audiences were required to accept a premise that included mutant superheroes, time travel and gigantic flying robots built by the Nixon Administration. One also had to accept the premise that nine years from today, in 2023, the Pentagon will possess antigravity technology and indestructible self-aware morphing cyborgs.
Okay, that's the premise, no more improbable than a James Bond movie or "Veronica Mars" episode, for that matter. Yet within the premise, action should make sense. In the flick, as the world is about to end in 2023, the handful of surviving X-Men realize Armageddon was set in motion by a mistake made on January 27, 1973. Wolverine is sent back in time to correct the mistake. But he's sent back only a few days prior to the event, requiring a furious race to head off disaster. If it was possible to move half a century backward in time, why not send him a bit earlier and make the mission more practical?
Then there's Shadowcat. In "X-Men: The Last Stand," set in the year 2006, she is said to be 20 years old. That would make her 37 years old in "Days of Future Past." Ellen Page, who plays the character, was 26 years of age during filming, and clearly is in her 20s, not her late 30s. Maybe she uses time travel to stay young.
In "Days of Future Past," Magneto and Mystique attack the White House in 1973, causing nationally televised destruction. Yet the previous flick simply titled "X-Men" was set in the year 2000 and had Washington just finding out mutants exist. Levitating beings hurling energy bolts attacked the White House on national television, and everyone forgot that happened? In "Days of Future Past," in the year 1973, Magneto twice attempts to murder Mystique. But in "The Last Stand," set decades later, Mystique is slavishly devoted to Magneto. Talk about a codependent relationship!
"Secaucus!": Playing again in New Jersey, location of the Broncos' Super Bowl defeat to conclude last season, Peyton Manning once again missed the chance to change his "Omaha!" presnap call to "Hoboken!" or "Tenafly!"
Even The Flash Gets Stuck on Line at Starbucks: When sci-fi franchises start running out of gas, they reach for time travel plots, because such plots not only don't need to make sense -- they can't make sense. That the "X-Men" and "Star Trek" franchises both are leaning extensively on time travel suggests these properties are headed to the nursing home.
Last week the CW network's reboot of "The Flash" premiered, and the pilot had a time-travel twist. If the opening move of "The Flash" is time travel, are the writers already running out of ideas? The pilot offered a scene that's all too common on television and in the movies: leading man/woman walks into a room to find his/her love interest making out with someone else. This happens constantly on celluloid. In real life, how often do people walk in on their love interests smooching the wrong person?
A fun fact about the reboot is that Barry Allen's father is played by the actor who was Barry Allen in the original "Flash" series of the early 1990s. Too bad the new series does not have a theme anywhere near as good as the original Flash theme by Danny Elfman.
Are the Eagles for Real?: After running hot-and-cold in their initial five contests, the Nesharim put together a full game in shutting out Jersey/A. Philadelphia is second in the league in scoring (after Indianapolis), 13th in defense against points, high in the Football Outsiders special teams ranking. That's a powerful combination. Is it powerful enough to overcome Philadelphia being first in the league in giveaways?
Leading 10-0, Chip Kelly lined up little-used reserve tight end James Casey in a flex left; showed screen pass left as Casey dragged to the right "low," close to the defensive line so the safeties wouldn't notice him; 26-yard touchdown. Sweet.
Are the Cardinals for Real?: I don't wish to alarm you, but the Cardinals -- not the defending champion Seahawks or the hype-heavy 49ers -- lead the NFC West. Arizona looked a tad dull overcoming the second-echelon Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons at home, and the Persons are awful: four fourth-quarter turnovers Sunday, five dropped passes. But the result was a 4-1 record for Arizona. The Cardinals play stout West Coast Defense but are low-voltage on offense, with just three touchdowns on 15 red zone possessions. On the other hand, they are the sole NFL team that has not thrown an interception. Suddenly their Nov. 2 date at Dallas looks like one of the season's monster games. Don't be surprised if their regular-season finale pairing at Santa Clara is a win-and-you're-in, loser-goes-home contest.
Newton's Third Law Repealed By Hollywood: On "Hawaii Five-0," a bad guy hit in the chest by a round from McGarrett's pistol is lifted up into the air. That may have seemed nifty to the stunt team, but a pistol bullet weighing less than an ounce would need to be traveling mighty fast to propel a man airborne.
Just how fast? If you can answer, tweet me @EasterbrookG, including your name and hometown. Assume a 200-pound bad guy with a generic foreign accent, wearing a perfectly tailored Italian suit, so drag coefficient is not an issue.
Upping the ante, on "Justified," a bad guy hit by a shotgun shell not only is lifted into the air but also he flies backward across a room. For the shell to convey enough energy for this to happen, the shooter would have to fly an equal distance in the opposite direction. Unless he was using a recoilless rifle, a type of antitank weapon that, despite the name, is a cannon. But the weapon shown was a standard shotgun. To launch a shell that causes a man to fly across a room, the gun should make the guy holding it fly backward.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: Leading 35-0 after 16 minutes at City of Tampa, the Ravens were on a pace to win 131-0. Deficit up to 38-0 in the second quarter, Lovie Smith sent in the field goal unit. Outraged, the football gods caused the kick to hit the uprights. Now in the third quarter, still trailing 38-0, Smith again sent in the field goal unit. The football gods had long since changed the channel.
TMQ thinks City of Tampa's new unis look like video-game icons on a screen whose contrast control is broken. But perhaps there is method to the madness. The new livery resembles the "dazzle camouflage" of World War I.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk No. 2: Vikings trailing 17-0 in the fourth quarter, coach Mike Zimmer sent the punt unit in on fourth-and-1. Just to prove it was no fluke, still trailing 17-0 with less than five minutes remaining, Zimmer sent the field goal unit in.
Lockout In B-Flat: Among the bêtes noires of this column are artists going on strike or being locked out owing to wage disputes. The latest is happening in Atlanta, where the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has suspended operations because musicians are resisting pay cuts resulting from higher health insurance costs. The arts make an important contribution to society, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is a high-quality symphony. But Geoff Edgers of the Washington Post reports that orchestra members earn an average base salary of $71,256, which is above the median household income. And they get to be artists -- a form of "psychic income" most Americans can only envy. Millions of people would trade their current circumstances for income in this range and the high status of being an artist.
Disputes of this kind are TMQ bêtes noires because when members of symphony, opera or dance companies complain about their pay, essentially they are demanding more charity. Of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's revenue, only $21 million is ticket sales while $16 million is donations and endowment support. Yes, the rich should give more to art. But demanding extra charity isn't a particularly dignified pose.
Fun fact: the money numbers breakdown posted on the web by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra management is boldly stamped CONFIDENTIAL. Obviously it's not, but suppose it were. What possible justification could a publicly supported tax-exempt organization have for claiming its financial data are confidential?
The NFL Has No Shame: In recent days, the NBA signed a new rights deal with ESPN and TNT, and the NFL signed a new rights deal for NFL Sunday Ticket. Set aside the billions of dineros involved -- if there is a ceiling to money in sports, it has not been hit yet.
The deals take completely opposite tacks.
The NBA arrangement will allow ESPN to stream out-of-market games on smart phones, tablets and other tech. Details are to be announced, but the key point is that viewers will not need to go through a cable carrier for some games. The NFL's new Sunday Ticket keeps that service as a DirecTV exclusive until 2018.
As TMQ annually notes, DirecTV is terrific if you can get it -- but millions of homes and apartments cannot. Your columnist lives in a trees-surrounded house that cannot receive DirecTV and is driven to distraction by media reports that continue to repeat the falsehood that anyone who can't receive DirecTV can now order Sunday Ticket via broadband. Just click on "See If You Qualify." Less than 10 percent of the country can purchase Sunday Ticket via broadband.
Bottom line is the NBA seeks the technology future while the NFL seeks to block viewer choice. Hmmm -- which of these two leagues has no shame?
Tiger Defects, Demands Asylum: Vladimir Putin's pet tiger swam to China.
Both Sides Use Doublespeak On States' Rights: Last week, when the Supreme Court declined to hear petitions from those seeking to prevent Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin from legalizing gay marriage, conservative Sen. Ted Cruz called this "judicial activism at its worst." Federal courts don't interfere with state autonomy -- that's "judicial activism?"
Some of Cruz's reaction might stem from the common misconception that cases are "appealed" to the Supreme Court. After a trial, there is a right of appeal. After an appeal, there is no right to a Supreme Court hearing: Many petitions for Supreme Court hearings are denied. But most of the reaction reflects that liberals and conservatives both engage in doublespeak regarding local, state and federal authority, extolling whichever supports their preconceived positions.
Usually, conservatives praise states' rights -- but when Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin decided to recognize gay unions (civil marriage has always originated at the state or local, not federal, level), conservatives went ballistic. Why don't those unelected federal judges step in! When states want to impose voter-ID rules, conservatives sing the praises of federalism and local decision-making. But when states such as Nebraska want to block pipelines, or local sentiment opposes seizure of private property for electric-power transmission corridors, conservatives demand federal preemption.
Liberals are just as bad. Normally, the song they sing is "think globally, act locally." But when local sentiment in Alaska favors a copper-and-gold mine, liberals demand the EPA invoke federal power to block the project. Liberals praise state action when California voters support regulation of greenhouse gases but praise federal action over state objections when, as happened last week, Barack Obama declared part of the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument, though local sentiment opposes federal restrictions on development in the area.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk No. 3 Trailing 27-0 in the third quarter at Philadelphia, the Giants punted on fourth-and-1.
Celebrities Can Pretend To Be Authors, If Only Authors Could Pretend to Be Celebrities: Success of the latest Hillary Clinton tome raises again this question: Why do Americans spend so much money on "books" that are "by" politicians -- whether Clinton or Rick Perry or Leon Panetta or any other -- when most such volumes consist of self-flattery and statements of the obvious? Few politicians' books involve the kind of brutal honesty that informed Grant's memoirs. Why do so many people buy modern political book-like objects rather than explore the rich world of literature?
Meanwhile, there's the ghostwriter issue. It is perfectly respectable to use a ghostwriter, so long as this is disclosed. The name of ghostwriter Mark Salter is on the cover of all John McCain books. That is the honorable course. The cover of Panetta's new book says "with Jim Newton." By contrast, Perry campaigned for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination by pretending to be the author of "Fed Up," which was actually written by Chip Roy. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook travels about claiming to be an accomplished author, when Nell Scovell actually wrote "Lean In." Scovell is noted on the book's title page but not on the cover, which warrants to the buyer that Sandberg is the author.
Clinton claims to be the author of three best sellers, none of which lists actual authors on the cover or the title page. In fact if Clinton had written "Living History," that in itself would have been a scandal since she was at the time a United States senator and would have had to neglect her duties to research and compose a 592-page book.
When a politician or business executive employs an undisclosed ghostwriter in order to pretend to be an author, that is not only dishonest but indicates the "author" has ego issues. One of the worst things about important people is insatiable ego. By pretending to be authors, politicians and executives place ego gratification above honesty. They devalue real writing in the process.
This incisive commentary by Paul Farhi of The Washington Post analyzes the latest wave of potentates who pretend to be authors. Farhi reports Michael Grunwald was the true author of former Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner's "Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises," though Geithner inadvertently forgot to include Grunwald's name on the cover or the title page. Fahri notes the three actual authors of Clinton's "Hard Choices" -- Dan Schwerin, a former aide to Clinton; Ethan Gelber, another former aide, and Ted Widmer, a Brown University historian -- are mentioned in only "a few sentences on Page 597 of the 635-page book." If Clinton pretends to be the book's author, the limelight shines entirely on her. Would we think less of Clinton if she'd been honest about Schwerin, Gelber and Widmer? We'd think more, admiring her for being forthright. That a potential president would rather engage in self-flattery than be honest with the public is not an auspicious sign.
Needless to say, Hollywood celebs use ghostwriters -- but celebs are airheads and no one expects their books to be anything other than brightly packaged junk. Readers reasonably expect integrity in books presented to the public as "by" a former secretary of state or "by" a former secretary of the Treasury. High school and college students are sternly warned their writing must be their own or there will be consequences. Then wealthy national leaders present other people's writing as their own, caring only about sales and ego inflation.
Fahri: "Using ghosts to produce self-serving political books is so common the HBO sitcom 'Veep' satirized it. The program's lead character, the vice president (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), can barely recognize anything mentioned in her book, which was written by a campaign aide and which she hasn't read."
Undisclosed ghostwriting has a long history, including ghostwritten books "by" John Kennedy. Because it's been done before does not make doing it now right. Kennedy, then a senator, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957 by claiming to be the author of "Profiles in Courage," which was actually written by his speechwriter, Ted Sorenson. An honest man would have insisted the literary prize go to the actual author. At least no contemporary phony "by" volume of self-praise has won a prize. Let's hope it stays that way.
Geithner postscript: It might be weasel behavior for him to make the rounds of TV talk shows, presenting himself as the author of a book he didn't write. But Geithner is one of the good guys in the bizarre AIG trial, testifying the purpose of the tough terms imposed on that company in 2008 was to discourage other firms from replicating AIG's behavior.
The case on fast-forward: AIG rolled in profit by signing deals to "insure" big-bank and investment-bank credit swaps against default. When many defaulted in 2008, AIG refused to pay up: It had been accepting lavish fees for "insurance" it had no intention of providing. To head off a cascade of bank failures triggered by insolvency of AIG-"insured" paper, the Federal Reserve (both headquarters and the New York branch, which Geithner then ran) essentially nationalized AIG, wiping out most stockholder equity while pumping in $185 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies. Now, the storm has passed, the bailout has been repaid and AIG is once again a private firm with market value. Its former CEO and other former major shareholders demand compensation for the lost value of their equity. That's the subject of the trial.
But AIG was a fraud! Andrew Ross Sorkin provides context. Geithner and Fed chair Ben Bernanke had good reasons to impose terms that made certain no financiers would attempt the AIG fake-insurance stunt again. Taxpayers had no reason to reward shareholders who had, of their own free will, invested in a drastically mismanaged firm. The former CEO's suit deserves to be laughed out of court, and it's also an argument for using the English system for civil litigation -- loser pays the winner's costs.
The Football Gods Promised An Investigation: Pittsburgh used a timeout at the start of the second quarter -- that is, coming out of the commercial break, the Steelers needed a timeout. Pittsburgh ended that possession by botching a field goal attempt. The Steelers looked discombobulated all day. Cleveland -- tied for the league low with just two giveaways -- looked poised, while Brian Hoyer looked like a quarterback who will keep Johnny Football on the bench for some time.
More News From Space: On Oct. 19, a comet known as Siding Spring will pass closer to Mars than the moon is to the Earth. Five probes in orbit around Mars should get a clear look. This comet comes from the Oort Cloud and has never approached the sun, unlike "periodic" comets such as Halley's. So it will be humanity's first chance to observe a virgin comet that has never been heated by a star -- presumably, the sort of comet that filled the oceans of Earth by raining down in great numbers in the mists of prehistory.
Because the orbiters were designed to scan Mars, not comets, none may be able to determine whether Siding Spring contains amino acids. These building blocks of life are found in large amounts in deep space, produced by some as-yet-undetermined process. It would be fascinating to know if amino acids first came to Earth within ancient comets.
The comet will pass the red planet at almost 125,000 mph, so the probes won't get a long look. There is some chance bits of debris thrown off by the comet will strike a Mars orbiter, and even a pebble moving nearly 125,000 mph would be like getting hit by an antiballistic missile. Let's hope Siding Spring does not smash the plucky, low-cost Indian satellite circling Mars.
Is A Meltdown Coming For Florida State?: Except for what's happening on the field, everything about the Florida State football program keeps looking worse. Mark Schlabach reports Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston faces a disciplinary hearing. Mike McIntire and Walt Bogdanich offer a disturbing account that suggests many Florida State players have been spared arrest owing to favoritism from the Tallahassee police, who, among other things, received $112,000 in extra pay last season for providing security at Seminoles contests. This might point to a broader issue across football. Robert Salonga and Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News are producing excellent journalism on the conflict of interest inherent in the 49ers paying moonlighting fees to the same police officers who evaluate whether Niners' players should be arrested.
McIntire and Bogdanich also offer details on Florida State's version of a problem detailed in my book "The King of Sports" -- that many football factories all but launder money through an athletic foundation or booster club that is run as business that leases the school's logos and tax exemptions, dodging taxes while contributing nothing to the college's educational core mission. In the case of Florida State's booster club, its comptroller might be an embezzler. Florida State is a large institution; it's inevitable that things will go wrong. But so much is wrong with the football program -- including its atrocious 58 percent graduation rate -- that one wonders if a meltdown is in store.
Given the relentlessly bad news about the boundary of sports and society, let me point to something good from Florida State's game at Syracuse. In the first quarter, a Seminoles receiver dropped a pass as two defensive backs, one on each side, closed on him at full speed, sure to collide a split-second later. Both guys pulled up so the hits weren't vicious and both raised their heads ("see what you hit") to avoid helmet-to-helmet contact. Five years ago, the defenseless receiver would have been hammered by double vicious hits, perhaps both helmet-to-helmet. Saturday, both Syracuse defenders used safe-football form. Maybe the culture of the game really is beginning to change.
In Praise Of Fake Cheeseburgers: The dream of "meat" without animals is getting close to practical. Last week, developer Patrick Brown told Evelyn Rusli of The Wall Street Journal he has figured out the reason tofu-style meat substitutes are so unappealing is that evolution conditioned us to want to eat things blood once flowed through. Brown's company says it has found a combination of plant substances that trigger the "this tastes like blood" pathway in the tongue, making a plant-based burger really yummy.
At least as long ago as Winston Churchill, commentators have noted that killing animals for food is not only ethically ambiguous but also to raise an entire chicken just to get its breast and wings is inefficient. For decades, it's seemed that culturing meat cells directly in a lab-like setup might be the solution. If plant-based meat substitutes can become appealing to the palette, that's even better. Conversion of the world's food economy to plant-based "meat" would lower agricultural inputs (including fossil fuels) while reducing greenhouse gas production. And it would likely be good for human health.
Our descendants might be as grossed out at the thought that we once killed animals for food as we, today, are grossed out at the thought that great-grandma once made Sunday dinner by catching a chicken in the yard and wringing its neck.
College Football's Monster Weekend: There were so many monster contests in big-college football Saturday that not even BMOC could take them all in. Here are some notes from channel-hopping:
Sportscasters noted Texas lost the Red River game despite an edge of 250 offensive yards. But Oklahoma had a big edge in return yardage, which is just as important.
Oregon leading 8-3, facing third-and-10 on the UCLA 21. Oregon lined up trips left and unbalanced right. At the snap, the right tackle pulled left while the tailback counterstepped left to create misdirection. Then the play became a screen right with three offensive linemen hustling downfield -- untouched for a touchdown. It was after this play UCLA coach Jim Mora (Mora the Younger to this column) got into a heated sideline argument with his defensive coordinator. Surely the Bruins had never seen a trips on one side with an unbalanced line on the other side and should have called timeout.
UCLA ran the trick play in which a back walks toward his sideline as if he's leaving the game, gesturing wildly at his coaches as if angry that he's been yanked -- but actually is a man in motion who stops just before going out of bounds and gets the pass. The Bruins gained only 12 yards with this action. Pretending to leave the game -- or the similar "this is the wrong ball" trick play often seen in high school -- shouldn't be legal. It's cheesy.
Mississippi State leading Auburn 21-0, ran a fake punt from its own 28, resulting in a shaggy looking turnover. Auburn had lined up in a "safe" set, expecting a fake. Now with possession, Auburn reached third-and-goal at the 5. The Tigers ran a tight end end-around trick-play pass -- the tight end had lined up off the line of scrimmage -- that never stood a chance, then settled for a field goal. Gus Malzahn can draw up plays with the best of 'em, but sometimes, gets too cute for his own good.
Mississippi State, leading 28-20 in the early fourth quarter, goes for it on fourth-and-8 from the Auburn 26 and converts. The drive concluded with a field goal anyway, but the call set an aggressive tone for the final stage of the game.
Versus Duke, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas sprinted all the way to the sideline. Rather than step out of bounds for a short loss, he launched a heave-ho down the field that was intercepted by Jeremy Cash, who ran the ball back to the Tech 23 to set up the touchdown that was the decisive score of the contest. Often when a quarterback appears to have begun to run, defensive backs abandon their man: Cash stayed with his man and was rewarded with a big play. Duke is now 5-1 in football, not basketball. This is not a misprint!
Ole Miss leading 21-0, Texas A&M punted on fourth-and-1, the single-worst play of the college weekend. But it paled before ...
Leading 58-44 at Baylor, TCU took possession at 10:39 of the fourth quarter and, rather than huddle up to grind the clock, stayed in its super-quick-snap tempo. Rather than run to grind the clock, TCU attempted three passes in six downs, two falling incomplete, which was like giving Baylor two free timeouts. The Horned Frogs punted back after burning just 2:39. This sequence would have been the worst coaching moment of the weekend had it not paled before ...
TCU got the ball back leading 58-51 with 6:39 remaining. Once again, the Horned Frogs used quick-snap rather than clock-killer tactics, and then the possession included: incompletion, quick-snap rush, incompletion, punt. TCU handed Baylor two more free timeouts, then handed back the ball after using up just 58 seconds. Baylor's winning field goal split the uprights as the clock expired. This possession was arguably the worst college football series of all time.
A Low-Scoring Game By College Standards: The first quarter of Colts at Texans seemed like some kind of rock concert light show. Late in the quarter, T.Y. Hilton had 140 yards receiving. That's a pace for 840 receiving yards. Not on the season, on the game. The 24-0 Colts first-quarter margin was on pace for a final of 96-0, but Houston had three quarters in which to overcome the lead that took Indianapolis one quarter to build. The contest came down to a late Houston fumble and was the first entertaining Thursday game of the season, though viewers who changed the channel after the initial quarter might not have known that.
Two early, big Indianapolis plays came on busted coverages -- no one at all covering the receiver. Two other big plays came against the infamous seven-man blitz. TMQ's Law of Comebacks holds: Defense starts comebacks, offense stops them. When the Texans played better defense in the second half, they came back.
Trailing 24-0, Houston lined up for a field goal attempt on fourth-and-5. Offside against Indianapolis gave the Texans a first down, but the notion that coach Bill O'Brien wanted a field goal when trailing by 24 points is puzzling. Then, trailing 33-21 at the start of the fourth quarter, Houston attempted a field goal on fourth-and-5. Suppose it had gone through: The hosts still trail by more than one score. Outraged, the football gods pushed the try wide.
Scouts' note: J.J. Watt knows when he's cut in the flat, that the play is a screen pass -- so he automatically leaps. This led to a long pick-six for him against Buffalo; against Indianapolis, it led to a screen pass he came close to intercepting. Don't cut J.J. Watt on screen passes!
Best 99-Yard Drive: (First appearance of this rubric in 2014.) Auburn staged an 11-play, 99-yard drive against Mississippi State to make it a game at 28-20 in the third quarter.
More Good News From Buffalo: So far this season pretty much the NFL's only feel-good story is the sale of the Bills to an owner who will keep them in Buffalo. The story got better last week when The Buffalo News reported the estate of late owner Ralph Wilson will give a significant share of the $1.4 billion purchase price to charities in Buffalo and in Detroit, Wilson's hometown. Most likely, the transaction will be structured to ameliorate whatever taxes the estate would have owed on appreciation of the asset, which Wilson originally acquired for $25,000. But it's fine when tax law encourages true philanthropy.
Those Who Cannot Hit Field Goals Are Doomed To Repeat History: Five quarters of Carolina at Cincinnati came to no conclusion when the Bengals' short field goal attempt missed as time expired. In 2008, the last occasion on which Cincinnati participated in a tie, the game ended with the Bengals missing a field goal. "Darling, we'll always have the Cincinnati tie games. It seemed as though time stood still."
The Golf Gods Chortled: TMQ often notes the administrative deadweight at the top of the NFL. Reader Trey Reeder of Raleigh, North Carolina, reports football is not alone in the this regard. The Ryder Cup team, with just 12 golfers, had a captain and three vice-captains.
The Football Gods Chortled: Indianapolis leading 27-14 just before intermission, the Texans lined up to punt. With three seconds left on the clock, the Colts called timeout -- the first known instance of icing the punter.
Do a Little Dance! TMQ's Law of Short Yardage holds: Do a little dance if you want to gain that yard. Green Bay leading 7-0, Miami decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Packers' 1. No shift, no misdirection -- just a handoff straight ahead, stuffed.
2.3 Or Take A Knee: A task force at the University of California at Berkeley -- "Cal" -- recommends the school raise admissions standards for athletes. Currently, Cal will admit a football or men's basketball player whose high school grade average was a C and who scored less than 400 on the math and reading sections of the SAT. Obviously, there is no way such a student is prepared to handle the workload at any serious college. (Cal now uses the NCAA minimum; colleges are free to require more than the NCAA minimum.)
If Cal raises its standards, football and men's basketball players who get in will be better served because they will be more likely to handle the classroom load and graduate. But low-academics athletes who couldn't get into Cal under new standards will just enroll somewhere else and struggle there. What's needed is an overall increase in the NCAA minimum so that all high school athletes understand they must devote more attention to their studies, less to the weight room.
Right now the NCAA says that in August 2016, its high school grade minimum will go up from an average of C (2.0) to C-plus (2.3). Important improvements such as this have been announced before, then mysteriously tabled when big-money universities realized they might cut into revenue. If the planned 2016 rule actually goes into effect for all colleges, not just Cal, that will be huge.
The 500 Club: Hosting West Virginia, Texas Tech gained 565 yards, led by two touchdowns with six minutes remaining, and lost. Visiting Notre Dame, North Carolina gained 510 yards, made 30 first downs, was plus-1 in turnovers and lost. Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran an article with what teachers call a "clever conceit" -- that Los Angeles already has a professional football team, and it's UCLA. The Bruins proceeded to lose badly at home versus Oregon though did join The 500 Club in the process, gaining 553 yards in defeat. Honorary member: The Cincinnati Bengals gained 513 yards and neither won nor lost.
The 600 Club: Hosting Liberty, Appalachian State gained 628 yards and lost. Versus The Citadel, Charlotte gained 679 yards and lost. At Montana State, UC Davis gained 610 yards and lost by 40 points.
The 700 Club: Honorary member: Baylor gained 782 yards at home versus TCU and needed a field goal as time expired to prevail.
The 800 Club: The velvet rope is pulled back to allow in Meadville Senior High of Meadville, Pennsylvania. Reader Kyle Reynolds of Oakmont, Pennsylvania, reports that versus Warren High, Meadville scored 78 points, gained 799 offensive yards and lost. Surely careful review of the game film would find 1 more yard, allowing entry to the ultra-exclusive 800 Club. Meadville's Journey Brown rushed for 344 yards, which turned out to be nowhere near enough to win a modern shootout.
In the Higley-Apache Junction contest, reported by reader Brent Goodrich of Chandler, Arizona, the Prospectors gained 829 offensive yards and lost by 20 points. Apache Junction quarterback Adam Abbatacola threw for 565 yards and rushed for 169 yards, which turned out to be nowhere near enough to win a modern shootout.
Update on The 800 Club's only football-factory member, Washington State. Against Stanford, Wazzu was held to 42 fewer points and 546 fewer offensive yards than it gained the previous week versus Cal.
Reader Animadversion: A recent TMQ chronicled many cases of government-funded infrastructure projects costing way too much and taking way too long. Reader Matt Thier of San Francisco adds more: "How come it's almost ten times less expensive to build an underground subway in Barcelona versus the United States? Barcelona: 30 miles of brand-new subway tunnels and track, 52 stations, in 10 years, for $8 billion, or $265 million per mile. New York City subway construction is costing $2.25 billion per mile. Here's a list of major transit projects broken up by cost per kilometer. All three major U.S. projects on the list are in the top four.
"The huge price difference can't be labor or union costs -- there's a higher unionization rate in Spain than here, and wages are in the same ballpark. Land acquisition costs are in the same ballpark -- Barcelona land isn't as expensive as NYC but is not cheap by any means. Both subways use the same equipment to dig: the massive tunnel boring machines (TBMs) are only produced by a handful of companies due to their complexity, and prices don't vary much.
"So if labor, land, and equipment costs are roughly the same, what's causing the U.S.-based subway to cost so much more than comparable overseas ones? This Bloomberg article notes byzantine contracting processes that hand over management authority to firms whose incentive is to maximize cost and minimize pace."
Insane cost overruns aren't limited to underground projects. The Purple Line trolley expected to be built a short drive from the White House is up to $153 million per mile for mostly surface construction. The projected cost has risen $80 million during 2014 though absolutely nothing has been built yet -- a 3.4 percent cost overrun in a year when inflation has been 1.7 percent.
Obscure College Score: Pittsburg of Kansas 45, Emporia State 17. One of TMQ's favorite obscure colleges, Pittsburg of Kansas, now has a player in the NFL: wide receiver John Brown of Arizona. Located in Pittsburg, Kansas, Pittsburg State University is among the dwindling number of colleges that crowns a homecoming court.
Single Worst Play Of The Season -- So Far: Opening the season 1-3 and looking shaky, the St. Louis Rams were hosting the heavily favored Santa Clara 49ers on "Monday Night Football." The home crowd was raucous. With undrafted unknown Austin Davis performing well at quarterback, Les Mouflons took a 14-3 lead and had the visitors backed up on their 20 with 27 seconds remaining before intermission. With that field position and clock, the only thing that could go wrong was a busted coverage. Boy, did it go wrong.
St. Louis coaches did not send a dime onto the field, or even a nickel. Facing a situation in which the long pass was the only threat, St. Louis coaches sent out their standard 4-3-4 with Cover 2. Presnap, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis backed up to position himself as a third safety. Why wasn't there an actual third safety in the game?
Across from Niners wideout Brandon Lloyd, corner Janoris Jenkins lined up in press coverage, right in Lloyd's face. What's the point of press coverage when the opposition must go the length of the field in 27 seconds? When Lloyd ran a stop-and-go, Jenkins fell for the fake and came to a stop. What's the point of a short stop pattern when the Niners must go the length of the field in 27 seconds? Obviously Lloyd is not running a stop! As Lloyd accelerated up the sideline, Jenkins then made the high school mistake of looking into the backfield trying to guess the play, rather than stick to his man.
The worst play came from the St. Louis safeties, Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald (McLeod was ultimately the goat on this play, completely out of position). At the snap both came forward, as if expecting something super-short. Both were running toward the Santa Clara end of the field as Lloyd was streaking toward the St. Louis end. These are the safeties, whose role is to prevent the long breakaway. As Colin Kaepernick released his pass, McLeod, who had responsibility for the side Lloyd was on, simply came to a halt and watched, not attempting to chase the man whose 80-yard touchdown seconds before halftime changed the complexion of the contest.
Afterward, Les Mouflons coach Jeff Fisher made lame excuses about a bad call on a different down. It was a bad call. Don't give me your excuses -- go win the game!
St. Louis Rams coaches and defenders, you are guilty of the single worst play of the season -- so far.
Next Week: The annual Tuesday Morning Quarterback Obscure College Game of the Year -- Indiana of Pennsylvania versus California of Pennsylvania at Hepner-Bailey Field at Adamson Stadium in California, Pennsylvania.