Barring the unexpected on season-finale Sunday, the NFL will set an overall scoring record. Teams are averaging 23.6 points per game; the reigning record, set in 1948, is 23.2 points per game. If you want to know why scoring is up, don't look to the chuck rule, which has been around since 1978. The leading indicator is Texas high school football.
Last weekend, Texas public schools played their title games. Final scores of the largest-division contests: Allen 63, Pearland 28; Cedar Hill 34, Katy 24. Final scores of the Texas largest-school title games a decade ago: 23-7 and 16-15.
This year's Texas playoffs offered big-school games ending 65-60, 55-48, 56-34, 68-21, 42-38 and 46-22. Prep player Patrick Mahomes threw for 605 yards in a Texas big-school playoff loss. His high school team gained 706 yards on offense, but it wasn't enough.
Several big-division Texas high schools this season averaged more than 50 points per game; Aledo High posted 64 points per game. Some of the results stemmed from the kind of extreme mismatches that can occur in prep competition. Some stemmed from bad sportsmanship. Aledo generated stats by beating up on mismatched opponents, winning a game 91-0 and twice by 84-7, all these contests versus weak teams. The 91-0 victory came over a school that finished 0-10: leading 77-0 in the fourth quarter, Aledo kept trying to score. Aledo High's players, coaches, boosters and principal should feel ashamed of setting such a poor example.
But mainly Texas high-school scores reflect a change in the way the sport is played in the Lone Star State, center of football culture. As recently as a decade ago, power-I rushing offense dominated the state's football -- and thus sent on to colleges and the NFL players who were skilled in power tactics. Now fast-snap shotgun spread offenses are the rule throughout Texas. Players schooled in quick-snap pass-wacky advance to nearby colleges such as Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, where fast-paced, high-scoring offense is the rule. A generation ago, Dan Marino's quick release was considered remarkable. Today, quick release is the standard in Texas high school football, and has filtered upward.
Texas is where the seven-on-seven fad began, roughly a decade ago. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. In the past decade, Texas has produced huge numbers of boys who spent much of their youth in nearly year-round seven-on-seven, practicing fast-snap tactics. Young Texas-raised quarterbacks, including Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill, all from the seven-on-seven generation, have become NFL stars. Texas-raised linemen, backs and receivers have brought the fast-pace ethos to the NFL.
A generation ago, few would have expected that Texas high school football, known for grind-it-out power tactics, would have a near-universal conversion to high-tech Xbox offense. The result is fabulous entertainment -- wild shootout-style contests. And offense sells tickets! Some 54,347 people attended the Texas 5A doubleheader, about the same as attended the next day's NFL contest in St. Louis.
There are downsides. In the crazed Texas system, 672 high schools made the postseason, in pursuit of 12 state championships. Those that reached the title round appeared in 16 games, same as an NFL regular season. Whichever university wins the BCS title will have played 14 game, which itself seem too many -- increasing injury risk, distracting from coursework. In Texas this season, 24 high schools played 16 football games. That's too much of a good thing.
The big downside is cultural. Texas not only led the charge into Xbox offense, it's led the charge into year-round football for the young. Seven-on-seven is played almost all year, and any boy who wants to start in high school knows he'd best be present at every "optional" seven-on-seven event. Less than a generation ago, most states did not allow public high schools to hold football practices, or even organized conditioning, in the offseason. Now most do. Year-round youth and high school football has become a drain down which the teen years of boys disappear, taking along the time that might have been used to improve grades and get ready for college.
It might not be coincidence that over roughly the same period that year-round football has become the norm in Texas and other states, African-American women have begun to excel in college while African-American men have struggled. The forthcoming book "Degrees of Inequality," by Cornell University professor Suzanne Mettler, details the poor performance of African-American males in higher education. African-American girls seem to be reaching college prepared, while African-American boys as a group are not. Of course sports is just one reason. But girls play sports and it doesn't hold them back academically. It is predominantly boys who get sucked into the time-draining, all-encompassing culture of year-round high school football -- and 98 percent never receive any recruiting offer, while many fail to attain the GPAs and extracurriculars that would lead to regular admission to college and regular financial aid.
So enjoy the run of high-scoring games at the prep, college and NFL levels -- they are fantastic entertainment! But except for the handful who go on to NFL paychecks -- the odds of a high school varsity player reaching the NFL are 1-in-2,000 -- the kind of football obsession displayed in Texas may be backfiring on boys by diverting their efforts from classroom success.
In seasonal news, Tuesday Morning Quarterback sends holiday good wishes to my favorite groups: space aliens, megababes and football enthusiasts. Bells are ringing all across the local star cluster!
Stats of the Week No. 1: Hosting the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers gained 157 offensive yards in the first 59 minutes and 65 yards in the final minute.
Stats of the Week No. 2: Stretching back to last season, Carolina is on a 15-4 streak.
Stats of the Week No. 3: The Detroit Lions have lost five of six; in all the losses, the Lions could not hold a fourth-quarter lead.
Stats of the Week No. 4: Stretching back to last season, the Houston Texans have followed an 11-1 streak with a 4-17 streak.
Stats of the Week No. 5: The Miami Dolphins' possession results at the Buffalo Bills: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, downs, interception.
Stats of the Week No. 6: The Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots are a combined 32-5 when BenJarvus Green-Ellis scores a touchdown.
Stats of the Week No. 7: Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings played at the Bengals. Coming in, Cincinnati had not lost at home and Minnesota had not won on the road. When the game ended, both statements remained true.
Stats of the Week No. 8: Tom Brady is 44-7 in December.
Stats of the Week No. 9: The Kansas City Chiefs have followed a 9-0 streak with a 2-4 streak.
Stats of the Week No. 10: Nick Foles, who started the season as a backup, has 25 touchdown passes and two interceptions. Joe Flacco, who started the season as the defending Super Bowl MVP, has 18 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions.
Sweet Drive of the Week: Trailing New Orleans 13-10, Carolina faced fourth-and-7 on its 36 with 2 minutes, 4 seconds remaining. The crowd booed when the punt unit trotted on, and your columnist expected a fake punt. But the Panthers had been terrible on offense in steady rain -- 0-for-9 on third downs. They have one of the league's best defenses and held two timeouts; the two-minute warning was effectively a third timeout. The Cats punted, held, then got the ball back on their 35 with 55 seconds showing.
Thirty-seven yard completion to Ted Ginn on a "semi," a deep crossing pattern, and suddenly the home crowd likes the punt decision. Another completion places the ball on the New Orleans 14: after a spike, it's second down with 28 seconds remaining. The Saints needed to force two incompletions; instead they brought an all-out blitz, though a sack still would have left Carolina in position for a field goal to force overtime. Touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon -- sweet. Both big plays on the drive were by castoffs, which is extra sweet.
Sweet Stop of the Week: Wasn't Seattle supposed to be the team with the great defense? Score tied at 3-3, the Seahawks had first-and-goal on the Arizona 3 with 42 seconds till intermission. Rush to the 1; rush no gain, great penetration by the league's top rush defense; Cardinals coaches sense play fake, and call timeout to get their troops set; play fake, everyone on the Arizona defense "stays home," incompletion; field goal attempt, botched. Sweet. This goal-line stand would prove decisive in Arizona's seven-point victory.
Now the Cardinals must sweat the possibility they finish 11-5 and miss the postseason, while the NFC East and NFC North produce lesser-record clubs that host playoff contests.
Seattle lost at home for the first time since Christmas Eve 2011. Was this outcome really so bad for the Bluish Men Group? Nobody always wins. Better to get a home loss out of their system now -- and be reminded that nobody always wins -- than learn that lesson in the playoffs.
Sour Play of the Week: Cleveland leading Jersey/B by 3-0, the Browns faced fourth-and-goal on the Jets' 1. Cleveland lined up in an empty backfield, then threw incomplete; the Browns went on to lose. Not only did Cleveland not try to run in a situation that usually favors the rush: by lining up empty, the Browns let the Jets' defenders know the action would be a pass.
Sweet 'N' Sour Game: The Patriots have gone soft? They didn't look that way in pounding the defending-champion Ravens, who had more to play for. New England leading 7-0, facing third-and-5, the Flying Elvii set a bunch trips right. The bunch trips has been around for 20 years, yet Baltimore reacted as if they'd never seen it. Two defensive backs followed the same guy, leaving Danny Amendola uncovered on a simple curl that turned into a 34-yard gain; New England touchdown on the possession. Now the chances of a New England bye are strong. Sweet.
The Patriots also played sweet defense. On the first possession of the second half, Baltimore reached third-and-3 on the New England 39 and went incompletion, incompletion. For both downs, Flacco was under pressure and had no one open. Week in, week out, different guys line up at receiver and on defense for the Patriots, and it never seems to matter -- they're all efficient.
New England leading 20-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Ravens reached fourth-and-5 on the Flying Elvii 19. That cannot be the field goal unit trotting in! Outraged, the football gods pushed the try wide. Baltimore had failed on fourth down on two of the three previous drives, but if a coin came up tails on two of the three previous flips, that would say nothing about the next flip. Down by 20 points in the fourth quarter, facing a team that was likely to score again, opting for a kick made it seem as though Harbaugh/East had quit on the game and only wanted to be sure the Ravens weren't shut out. Baltimore outgained New England, yet lost by 34 points. Very sour.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Holding a 14-7 lead over visiting Minnesota, Cincinnati had the Vikings facing third-and-2. Vincent Rey intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, setting in motion the Bengals' rout that put Cincinnati into the postseason. Sweet.
Minnesota lined up with an empty backfield despite needing only two yards; tight end Rhett Ellison, for whom the pass was intended, pushed his defender out of the way and was called for pass interference, declined. First taking out Adrian Peterson, which announces the play would be a pass; then giving up a pick-six on a down when your team was called for offensive pass interference. That's mighty sour.
Happy Hour in Hell's Sports Bar: Hell's Sports Bar has an infinite number of flatscreen HD TVs, but certain blackout restrictions may apply. For the early CBS slot on Sunday, Hell's Sports Bar did not see the playoff-caliber Indianapolis at Kansas City contest, combined records 20-8; rather, it was force-fed Denver versus Houston, a game involving the league's worst team. Which means that Hell's Sports Bar was most of the United States, where this actually happened -- meaningless Denver-Houston aired rather than Indianapolis at Kansas City. Tennessee and northern Florida saw the laffer Titans-at-Jax contest -- two eliminated teams, no playoff implications no matter what either did -- rather than Indianapolis at Kansas City.
Flipping to Fox in Hell's Sports Bar produced the low-voltage Jersey/A-Lions or Vikings-Bengals pairings, rather than the playoff-like New Orleans-versus-Carolina contest. Which means Hell's Sports Bar was the Midwest and Northeast, where this actually happened: woofers shown instead of a great game. Parts of Florida were force-fed the meaningless Bucs-Rams tilt, rather than Saints-Panthers. Thus Sunday in the early slot, Florida became Hell's Sports Bar Incarnating on Earth, as viewers couldn't see either of the great games going on, but could choose between two nothingburgers.
Later that day, Hell's Sports Bar did not see the monster New England-Baltimore pairing, rather was force-fed Oakland versus San Diego, combined record 11-17. Which means Hell's Sports Bar was the state of California, where this actually happened.
As always, cable customers in Canada and Mexico were allowed to choose whatever NFL game they wanted to watch. Cable customers in the United States -- who are taxed to subsidize the NFL -- were denied any choice.
With the Federal Communications Commission moving to end the blackout rule, Sunday's situation should be a reminder that the NFL's ability to compel local affiliates to air bad games -- an ability granted by Congress with the league's 1966 antitrust waiver -- has far more impact than the blackout rule. The blackout rule comes into effect only a few times per year, and then for one city. The NFL's ability to force-feed bad games to local affiliates is invoked nearly every week, affecting broad swaths of the United States.
Pro football's antitrust exemption for television negotiating and scheduling is a much bigger deal than the blackout rule. So where is the FCC on what really matters?
Cosmic Thought No. 1: At this time of the year, your columnist likes to remind that the more is learned about the natural world, the grander all seems. This applies to the firmament, to human origins and to life itself.
On origins, anthropology keeps finding humanity older and farther-dispersed than assumed. Researchers Camilo Montes of Colombia and Carlos Jaramillo of Panama recently reported evidence that the land bridge between North and South America formed not two or three million years ago, but 15 million years ago. This scrambles theories about the flora and fauna of both continents. Causeways were built in the Amazon River basin at least 4,000 years before the present. That suggests people had already been living there a long time.
A generation ago, academics used the term Holocene to mean the most recent 12,000 years, marking the end of the most recent ice age and the starts of forest-burning and controlled agriculture -- the period when the human presence began to make itself felt. Now there's a movement to name a new geologic period, the Anthropocene, starting about 60,000 years ago. Evidence increasingly suggests that cultivation of plants and burning of forests to clear fields goes at least that far back.
A few years ago, the surprise discovery in Siberia of unusual human-like fossils suggested that 40,000 years ago there were three basic branches of genus Homo -- one leading to Homo sapiens, one to the extinct Neanderthals and one the extinct Denisovans, who may have resembled Hobbits. Siberia's Denisovans were taken to be a rare, short-lived branch of the human tree. That view collapsed this month, when researchers in Spain announced the discovery of Denisovan mitochondrial DNA predating the present by 400,000 years. This scrambles theories about how modern humanity developed. In most of the animal kingdom, there are many competing species: at the top, just Homo sapiens. Perhaps it will turn out that in the far past there were many competing species of hominids. We'd like to think that Homo sapiens won because we were smartest. What if we won because we were most violent?
Cosmic Thought No. 2: The logic of evolution by natural selection is strong. All mammals employ the same amino acids in their DNA, and all mammal genomes function by the same basic mechanism, which suggests evolution from common ancestry. The modern beaver seems to have descended from the bear-sized Castoroides ohioensis of the Pleistocene era; both have similar appearance and skeletons. As Jerry Coyne, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, points out in "Why Evolution Is True," the interior body plan of a baleen whale looks strikingly similar to that of Rodhocetus, a 50-million-years-ago creature that swam using feet, and probably was a transitional stage in the whale's movement from land to sea. At one point, few transitional fossils -- "missing links" -- had been found; their lack was an objection to natural-selection thinking. Today dozens of missing links, such as Rodhocetus, have been cataloged.
But even if natural selection proves correct, this does not lend the slightest clue about the origin of life. Evolution concerns how organisms that already exist respond to changes in their environments: Why do organisms exist? A giant otter being the forebear of a whale is far easier to envision than bacteria-sized molecules self-assembling in an ancient inanimate landscape. Charles Darwin said he had no idea how life began. Coyne, whose book is the leading recent academic defense of evolution, says he has no idea how life began.
The natural world is rich in substances used by living things. Volcanoes are known to generate many of the carbon-based compounds needed by life. Huge clouds of amino acids float in interstellar space, formed by some as-yet-unknown process; meteorites passing through them might have carried such chemicals to the young Earth. A meteorite found in 1984 in Antarctica is thought to have come from Mars and indicates that amino acids and structures similar to rudimentary multicellular life formed on Mars long ago.
Yet even with amino acids available, a spontaneous origin of life appears spectacularly improbable. How inanimate chemicals began to isolate themselves from their environments (perhaps by some sort of membrane or cell), retain information (in order to structure themselves), exchange energy with their environment (to grow) and finally to duplicate is extremely baffling. Fred Hoyle, an astronomer who died in 2001, who made his reputation by demonstrating how stars forge light elements into the heavy elements necessary for planets, once estimated the jump from inanimate to living was so improbable, the universe had not yet existed long enough for this to happen by chance. Supposing the first living organisms assembled themselves, he memorably said, was like supposing "a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747."
Either life was created by a higher being; or began here spontaneously; or came to Earth from somewhere else. If the first, we must wait until such time as the higher being may deign to tell us what happened. If the third, then one day we may find the extraterrestrial wellspring.
But if life began here spontaneously, the origin should not be a one-time event -- rather, something that could happen whenever conditions are correct. After all, if life once commenced entirely of its own accord, researchers possessing textbooks full of knowledge should be able to duplicate what nature once did unaided, and make life in the lab. Creating life de novo in a laboratory would not necessarily be the same as learning how life commenced in the Archean mists. But if life began on Earth without assistance, then "as a matter of logic, we must be able to create life in the lab," Harold Morowitz, a biologist at George Mason University, has said.
There must be laws of nature that we do not yet know. Morowitz has said, "The periodic table shows what appears to be the only possible ordering of elements, and there may someday be a similar table that shows the only possible ordering to carbon biology. Eventually we may discover that whenever carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorous occur in temperatures and pressures like those on Earth, some law of nature causes citric-acid cycles to begin, and life usually follows."
Look up "citric acid cycle" in Wikipedia and you'll behold a dauntingly complex chemical diagram. It turns out that initiating this cycle, which is the essence of cellular respiration, is not especially hard; in a near-teleological way, the compounds involved seem to want to start the cycle. The citric acid cycle has not changed since Earth life began around four billion years ago. Morowitz thinks that's a clue to whatever law of nature favors life -- that life is not wildly improbable, rather, is likely in Earth-like circumstances.
Now to the latest in this ancient mystery. Jack Szostak of Harvard, who shared a Nobel Prize in 2009, has been trying to accomplish what should be possible if life began spontaneously -- create life in a lab. He has made progress, though he has not yet been able to do so. Robert Service of Science magazine writes, "In tackling the origin of life, Szostak is taking on one of the biggest questions humanity as ever asked, second only to the origin of the universe itself." Your columnist would counter that the origin of life is a grander question than the origin of the universe -- since while it is impossible to imagine life without a cosmos, it's easy to imagine a cosmos without life.
How Dare You Say Our Football Program Cares About Education! Everything wrong with the NCAA can be summed up in this news story: A University of Washington football coach is in trouble because it is alleged that he helped a potential recruit to GET AN EDUCATION. The coach was forced to DENY helping the kid get an education, calling such allegations "untrue attacks." It's an ATTACK to maintain that a college football coach tried to help someone become educated. Everything that's wrong with the NCAA is summed up in this story.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: Desperate for a win in its playoff quest, Miami trailed 10-0 at Buffalo. The Genetically Engineered Surimi had fourth-and-4 at midfield with 10 seconds remaining before intermission, and punted. Why not launch a Hail Mary? An incomplete Hail Mary might end the half; even if a couple seconds were left, that only gives Buffalo the ball at midfield for a Hail Mary try in the other direction. You're down by 10 points and your season in sinking slowly into the west. Why are you punting?
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk No. 2: Chicago gave up a quick touchdown to the hot-and-cold Eagles -- clobbered by cellar-dweller Minnesota one week, then dominate against a division leader the next week. Then Chicago fumbled the kickoff. TMQ contends the krumble -- kickoff return fumble -- is football's most devastating play, since the team that just scored gets the ball in scoring position again. Philadelphia led 14-0 before fans were settled in their seats. Making a smart maroon zone decision -- going for it on fourth down from the Bears 37 -- the Eagles soon led 21-0.
Now Chicago, trailing by 21, faces fourth-and-2 from its 43. That cannot be the punting unit trotting in! TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Later, Chicago had fourth-and-28 in Philadelphia territory and punted. It makes no difference what a team does on fourth-and-28; punting on fourth-and-2 from midfield when trailing by three touchdowns, in one play, reversed Marc Trestman's image as a bold coach. Though, fans from all cities other than Chicago should be that by folding early in this contest, the Bears created an extra playoff game in the guise of their regular-season finale versus Green Bay.
Cosmic Thought No. 3: Meanwhile, back upstairs in the cosmos -- 60 billion galaxies and counting, at least 100 billion stars in our Milky Way alone -- the European Space Agency just launched a probe that will precision-map the locations of the billion or so stars nearest the sun. If the probe succeeds, it will improve dramatically knowledge of the patterns in stellar movement, which may reveal how galaxies evolve -- and whether there's something powerful but unseen tugging on ours.
Here's the 2013 cosmic study that struck me as most cosmic -- a radio telescope survey of Messier 82, a "starburst" galaxy. Messier 82, which is relatively close in our corner of the universe, is creating new stars at 100 times the rate of star formation in the Milky Way.
The cosmos is at least 14 billion years old -- and stars are still forming, some right in our neighborhood. Creation may exist for a trillion years, or forever. Who can say what the cosmic enterprise calls for? Happy holidays.
Nice Web Tool No. 1: The Knight Commission, which exists to propose reforms the NCAA ignores, just released a fabulous data tool. Use it to generate reports and graphs of athletic versus academic spending at any of the powerhouse colleges. For instance, adjusted for inflation, from 2005 to 2011 at the University of Louisville, academic instruction expenses per student rose 4 percent, while coaching expenses per football player rose 60 percent.
Practically any institution name or data request you input to this tool produces more indications of how out of whack priorities are at football-factory universities. Which is why the NCAA will ignore this Knight Commission project, too.
Nice Web Tool No. 2: Brian Burke and Kevin Quealy have produced a fabulous gizmo that shows how football coaches are usually wrong to kick on fourth-and-short.
Wacky Food of the Week: Reader Will Wheeler of Takoma Park, Md., reports that Brooklyn trendies now dine on artisanal porridge. What if Oliver Twist could have asked for portobello and pesto porridge with aged gruyere and chicken-apple sausage? What if he could have demanded a drizzle of wildflower honey? Only modern foodie obsession could lead to high-end gruel.
The Owls Item: Your columnist scorned the Fish and Wildlife Service for planning to shoot barred owls, to prevent them from competing with extremely similar spotted owls. Reader Chris Burke of Seattle replies, "The point of the spotted owl fracas was not to preserve one species of bird, it was to stop logging of old-growth. Old-growth or ancient forest used to cover the Pacific Northwest. Around 95 percent of it has been logged, replaced by second-growth forest. The northern spotted sits at the top of a food pyramid that only exists in healthy old growth. Where there are spotted owls, the old growth ecosystem is healthy. The spotted owl was chosen to win lawsuits based on the Endangered Species Act because it is an excellent indicator of the health of old-growth trees.
"Using spotted owls and the ESA did accomplish the goal of stopping logging in the old growth forest that was left. Industry complained because logging old growth is more lucrative than logging other types of forest. But logging old growth is a one-time deal -- once you get the old trees, there won't be any more for centuries. The logging industry shrank because they'd gotten most of the big old trees already.
"Why should the remnant of old-growth forests be preserved? Anyone who has walked in an ancient forest can't help but notice how awesome these are. The old growth of Europe has been gone for centuries. What remains in the United States should be saved, whatever the legal mechanism."
The reason barred owls have come into conflict with northern spotted owls is that recovery of the forested acreage of North America has allowed the barred owls to move westward. Reader George Leopold of Washington, D.C., notes the same new forested pathways are allowing the snowy owl to enlarge its range from northern Canada toward Wisconsin. Many types of birds are proving inconveniently resourceful, not dying off as environmental theory predicted.
Are the Chiefs Imploding or the Colts Peaking at the Right Time? Kansas City leading 7-3, tailback Donald Brown of Indianapolis "chip" blocked a pass-rusher, hesitated, then snuck into the flat unnoticed by any defender. His 33-yard touchdown catch turned the momentum of the contest. Kansas City is 11-4, its only Ws over teams with winning records coming against Dallas and Philadelphia, whose places in the standings are padded by playing in the weak NFC East.
Andrew Luck now has 7,914 career passing yards, rendering him likely to take Cam Newton's record of 7,920 passing yards in a player's first two seasons. Newton struggled to complete games early in his career; already Luck is 21-11. The Colts struggled midseason; they've won their past two by a combined 48-10.
The Stadium Gods Chortled: A week ago, the Lions lost at home on a 61-yard field goal by the Ravens. Outside it was 8 degrees when the kick was launched; TMQ noted the loss was the price Detroit fans pay for indoor comfort, since the kick would have stood little chance in the elements. This week, Detroit lost at home by three points to the Giants, who hit a 52-yard field goal. Outside as the kick boomed, it was 40 degrees with light freezing rain. Had that contest been played in the elements as the football gods intended, that kick likely would have missed too.
Can You Identify All Three? If you need a last-minute gift, consider the new book "No Ordinary Men" by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern, a concise account of noble anti-Nazi resistance efforts by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi. Your columnist long has felt the three greatest figures of the 20th century were Bonhoeffer, Norman Borlaug and Nelson Mandela. Most American high school graduates don't even know who the first two are!
Obscure College Score: Wisconsin-Whitewater 52, Mount Union 14 (Division III title game). Located in Whitewater, Wis., the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater offers "intrusive advising."
Having forgotten earlier this season to reprint my annual AutoText-stored item on how they will never be another undefeated NFL team like the 1972 Dolphins, I did remember to hit the AutoText for the below annual words:
Obscure College Sign-Off: This item folds its tent and steals into the desert, as colleges that play from here on out tend to be well-known. TMQ finds it reassuring that long after you and I have left this mortal coil and are trying to scalp tickets to meet the football gods, every Saturday at colleges across our great nation, plastic-clad gentlemen will slam into each other as leaves fall, boys try to get girls' phone numbers and car alarms go off in the parking lot. In the Great Chain of Being, this is the football link. At current rates of advance in technology, someday boys will be trying to get girls' prefrontal cortex telepathy routing codes. The car alarms, I feel confident, still will be going off in the parking lot.
Book Note: In the lead, the column cites "Degrees of Inequality" by Suzanne Mettler, scheduled for publication in March 2014. Last week another book on the same subject (class distinctions in college) was published by Ann Mullen. It's titled, "Degrees of Inequality." Titles cannot be copyrighted, and two books on the same topic released around the same time happens more often than authors care to think. But two books on the same topic released around the same time with the same title -- ye gods.
Denver's Own Personal Stats Item: Peyton Manning has set the record at 51 touchdown passes; he is on a pace for 54 touchdown passes. Denver is on pace for 610 points; the NFL record is 589 points. Denver has kicked 71 extra points; the Jaguars have kicked 21 PATs.
Reader David Clauss of East Providence, R.I., writes, "Back in 2007 when New England's offense was a juggernaut and ran up the score, you consistently criticized Bill Belichick for this. This season, you say nothing about John Fox, and praise Denver's dazzling offensive stats. Why the Broncos favoritism?"
All season I've mulled whether Denver is running up the score. Denver defeated Tennessee 51-28, but the lead did not become insurmountable until late. When the Broncs led Philadelphia 42-13 at the end of the third quarter, Manning held a clipboard for the rest of the contest. So, no problem with either of those high-scoring outings. Sunday, Manning should have come out with the Broncos ahead 30-13 and only five minutes remaining: Denver plainly was playing to make sure its star got the touchdown-passes record. (He might sit in the season finale.) On the other hand, the Broncos wish they'd run up the score when they held a seemingly safe 24-0 lead at New England.
I'd be the first to admit some of the difference in reaction is optics. Belichick snarls at the public; Fox comes across as awe-shucks. Maybe they're both different in private. But no one puts a gun to Belichick's head and forces him to snarl -- he could make an effort to seem grateful for his good fortune.
The Football Gods Chortled: The second half of New Orleans at Carolina was played in driving rain. The Panthers punted from around midfield; returner Darren Sproles planted his feet at the 10-yard line and did not back up when the punt went over his head, which is exactly what a return man should do. (Never field a punt inside your 10.) The ball hit the ground at the New Orleans 2, and normally would have bounced into the end zone. But the ground was so soggy, the punt just plopped to a stop as it hit, stranding New Orleans on its 2. Later, Carolina punted from midfield again. Again, Sproles planted himself at the 10 as he was supposed to, and again the ball plopped into wet ground and didn't bounce, stopping at the New Orleans 3.
Falcons Go from Toast to Burnt Toast to Christmas Scones: Atlanta's nightmare season is summed up in two facts from the "Monday Night Football" finale. First, the Falcons threw for 341 yards and rushed for only 61 yards. Second, trailing by three points, Atlanta reached second-and-1 on the 49ers' 10 with a minute remaining and holding all timeouts -- ideal circumstances to rush, call time as needed and win as the clock expires. Instead the Falcons attempted a super-short pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Last season concluded with Atlanta a couple of snaps shy of reaching the Super Bowl; now the Falcons are on a 4-12 streak. Few teams have ever fallen farther and harder. The NFL may be a passing league, but victory cannot be had by throwing alone.
StubHub World: Last week the cheapest StubHub ticket for Atlanta at San Francisco -- the 49ers' curtain call at Candlestick -- was $300. Low midfield seats on the 49ers side were around $700. Tickets for the woofer Bucs at Rams pairing were available for $12, less than the cost of parking.
Favorite Bowl Game of the Dallas Cowboys Coaching Staff: Holding a 15-point lead over Colorado State, Washington State faced second-and-5 with 4:32 remaining, the Cougars went incompletion, incompletion, punt, stopping the clock twice. Colorado State would score the winning points as time expired. Had Washington State simply twice run up the middle for no gain, the Cougars almost surely would have prevailed. Adjusting for sacks, Washington State coaches called 65 passes and 12 rushes.
Announcers, Please Watch the Game: City of Tampa at Les Mouflons, the Rams handed off to a tailback running right, who flipped the ball to wide receiver Stedman Bailey running left, 27-yard touchdown. Color man Brian Billick declared the play a double reverse, adding, "I haven't seen a double reverse in a long time." And you didn't see it there! The action was a single reverse -- the ball started moving right, then was given to a player going left.
Triassic Corruption: Dinosaur research contains "irregularities," according to wealthy gadfly and sometime chef Nathan Myhrvold. Next they'll say Thomas the Tank engine is on the take!
Manly Man Play of the Day: Pittsburgh faced fourth-and-2 on its 44, the Steelers lined up to punt -- fake kicks are most promising on fourth-and-short. The punter completed a nice pass for the first down, touchdown on the possession. One would assume the football gods would favor Green Bay playing in snow; the Steelers got the football gods on their side by this manly-man decision.
TMQ Christmas List: Perhaps someone can give me "luxury candles." Even today, the world's poor use candles for interior light; it seems candles, which once stood for simplicity, have become a luxury item for snobs. If you have $450 to spend on a candle, even a "flagship candle," you should be ashamed of yourself for not giving the money away.
Unified Field Theory of Creep No. 1: Reader Marshall Whitehouse of Auckland, New Zealand, notes the 2014 Truck of the Year has already been named.
TMQ objected last month to corporate America ruining Thanksgiving by turning it into a shopping day. Corporate America has long since ruined Christmas, but this got worse when Macy's outlets stayed open until 2 a.m. last weekend, to encourage materialism over spirituality. Reader Jillian Abruzzo of San Jose, Calif., notes Macy's also proclaimed a Christmas-themed "One Day Sale" that lasted from Friday till Sunday.
Two years ago, TMQ retired the Christmas Creep item, since this phenomenon had crept from occasional annoyance to ubiquitous. When readers have sent me proposed Christmas Creep items this season, I've replied by wishing them Happy Valentines' Day. Be careful for what you wish. On Dec. 20, well before Santa's ride, a day before winter solstice, the Official Wife of TMQ spotted Valentines' Day chocolates on display at the local Safeway.
Adventures in Officiating: Peter King of MMQB has reported that replay reviews may be moved to a central location, beamed electronically to a league office. This should speed up tedious and lengthy reviews. While we're at it, let's make replay review double blind.
Here's what would happen. Review officials would be sitting in an office in New York City, which for NFL purposes is located in New Jersey. A call is challenged at a game. A monitor would light up and show the disputed play -- without telling the replay official what was called on the field. The replay official would have two choices -- he would message that the play was indisputably an X, or that there is doubt. If the play was indisputably X, that would be the challenge result. If there was doubt, whatever was called on the field would stand. But the replay official would not know what was called on the field.
That the referee staring at the review monitor already knows the call on the field introduces observer bias. He is not asking himself "What happened on this play?" but rather "Can our original call be justified?" If the replay reviewer at a remote location did not know what was called on the field -- or what the game situation was, or whether the crowd cheered or booed -- he would only ask himself, "What happened on this play?" and he'd only have to determine if he was sure what happened. If he couldn't be sure, the call on the field should stand. Medical research has shown that the less the tester knows about a drug or therapy, the more valid the result. The same would be true about replay reviews.
Art Imitates Life Imitates Art: Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal reports that the upcoming film "Lone Survivor," loosely based on the story of a SEALs unit nearly wiped out in Afghanistan in 2005, has been generating buzz via private screening to NFL teams, starting with the Dallas Cowboys. Hmmm -- some buzz has just been supplied here, so the idea must be working. On Friday, the Patriots saw a preview screening.
The 2012 novel "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," by Ben Fountain, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, is about a small unit of American soldiers from Iraq being feted in 2005 by the Dallas Cowboys as the soldiers negotiate a Hollywood film deal. The novel and movie have nothing to do with each other, but overlap in multiple respects.
If you haven't read "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," the book is worth your time -- well-written and inventive, though never makes up its mind whether it wants to be a realistic novel or comic novel. The subject is American attitudes toward war following what the soldiers call "nina leven." Football is only a supporting character -- though there's a hilarious fictional version of Jerry Jones.
Low Football IQ: Oakland and San Diego tied at 10-10 in the third quarter, Raiders cornerback Mike Jenkins made a tackle, then slapped the ball out of a Bolts' player's hand as he strutted around pointing at himself. Not only was this a low-football-IQ play -- your team is in the cellar, what are you strutting about?
Next Week: How much of the United States will be force-fed a woofer and not see the playoff-like Chicago-Green Bay, or the strong Baltimore-Cincinnati or San Francisco-Arizona contests?
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.