TMQ sizes up players, writes haiku

Originally Published: September 6, 2011
By Gregg Easterbrook | Page 2

Randy White, BJ RajiGetty Images, AP PhotosOne generation later, linemen are larger and stronger.

Randy White of the Dallas Cowboys, star defensive tackle of the 1970s, member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame: What a joy it was to watch him play! White was a master of leverage, burst and anticipation. Today, he might not even make an NFL roster. If White got on the field, he'd be crushed.

White played defensive tackle at 257 pounds, across from centers weighing 240 or 250 pounds and guards who were considered huge if 265. Last year's Super Bowl featured defensive tackles B.J. Raji (337 pounds) and Casey Hampton (330 pounds) versus guards Chris Kemoeatu (344 pounds) and Josh Sitton (318 pounds). Either guard would have steamrolled Randy White as if he wasn't there.

As for today's biceps: Your Honor, I call to the stand America's leading expert on these matters, Mel Kiper Jr. Everyone assumes today's football players are bigger, faster and stronger than those who came before. But what does the data show? No one is better suited to answer that question than Kiper.

Far, far in the past -- about 1980 -- the United States was not obsessed with the NFL draft. Of course that's hard to imagine today. Once, bread did not come sliced. But I digress.

As a young man, Kiper fixated on ranking college prospects, at a time when smudgy mimeographed newsletters and phone calls to college coaches, not YouTube, were the key sources of information. Kiper became the first successful draftnik, creating an entire professional category that had not existed before. Importantly, for the purposes of the column, he keeps elaborate file cabinets of records, including super-detailed statistical guides covering everyone who has tried out for an NFL team in the past three decades. Kiper is the Herodotus of the football draft.

So I asked Kiper to quantify changing size, speed and strength since his recordkeeping began about 30 years ago. "Speed hasn't changed that much," Kiper said. "Deion Sanders and Barry Sanders were among the fastest players ever, and they both came out 22 years ago, in 1989. Wide receivers, defensive backs -- their size and speed is about the same as a generation ago. The change is in the trenches, where the lineman have gotten much bigger and stronger."

To back this, Kiper analyzed the numbers from his top-five NFL prospects at each of the three offensive linemen positions, at five-year intervals from 1979, when his records begin, to the present. Result? From 1979 to 2011, the typical top-five offensive tackle enlarged from an average of 6-foot-4, 264 pounds to 6-foot-6, 314 pounds. From 1979 to 2011, NFL-bound centers enlarged from an average 6-3, 242 pounds to 6-4, 304 pounds. In the same period, guards enlarged from an average 6-3, 250 pounds to 6-4, 317 pounds.

A 242-pound center? That was common in the NFL a generation ago. Today, All-American center Chase Beeler of last season's Orange Bowl-winning Stanford team went undrafted because he's "too small" at 285 pounds. The offensive line of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the NFL's perfect team, averaged 262 pounds. Today every Division I college offensive line averages well more than 262 pounds. So do most Division III college offensive lines.

And 264-pound offensive tackles? Last Friday, I watched the opening game of my local high school's season. The Bulldogs lined up offensive tackles at 6-4, 305 and 6-3, 328. These were fit, muscular young men. And the high school in question is an academics-oriented school that does not emphasize sports!

Now to strength. Kiper used the combine's repetition test: How many times can a man bench 225 pounds? "Reps" indicate "functional strength," a core requirement for football -- muscle power available while running, or after fatigue sets in during the second half. Max numbers on the bench press, clean and other lift indicators are rising, but some athletes who post amazing powerlift results are too stiff for on-field performance. The reps test, adopted by the combine in 1991, is widely viewed as the best measure of the kind of strength an athlete can use on the field.

Kiper's numbers: From 1991 to 2011, top-five offensive tackles increased from an average of 22 reps of 225 pounds to 26. Top-five guards increased from 22 to 29 reps. Top-five centers increased from an average of 21 to an amazing 30 reps. A generation ago, coaches put quick, crafty players at center. Today centers are muscle-bound specimens.

Roll Kiper's numbers together and here is what you get: Today's offensive linemen are on average 24 percent heavier than those of 1979, plus an average 31 percent stronger than those of 1991.

What about defensive line? Chris Sprow, an ESPN writer who works with Kiper, merged many combine numbers into decadal stats. In the 1980s, the average of defensive linemen entering the NFL was 263 pounds; in the 1990s, 279 pounds; in the aughts, 288 pounds. That's a slower size rise; typical defensive linemen are 10 percent bigger than a generation ago. The trend for what New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams calls "jet fighter" defensive ends, lean and fast, has moderated defensive line pound growth. Though, today's average defensive lineman has 31 pounds on Randy White.

Some of the increase in football size traces to improvements in nutrition and training. It is possible to carry 300 pounds in a healthy manner. The key for football players is to shed pounds once their playing careers, and training supervision, end.

Some of the increase in strength traces to the mid-1970s arrival of Nautilus machines, which allowed widespread safe use of slow-resistance weights without a spotter. The health-club entrepreneur Arthur Jones, the brains behind Nautilus, which spawned many imitators, had quite an impact on athletics. Free weights, of course, remain integral to muscle mass gain. Sports science, itself a new field, has found ways to time lifting routines to render them more effective than just pumping iron.

The result is bigger, stronger football players at all levels of the game, in an arms race that shows no sign of slowing. How long till the 400-pound football player?

There is a troubling side to all this. That the No. 1 sport in a nation with a childhood obesity epidemic celebrates and rewards weight gain is a public-policy aspect of football that no one has yet to address.

But the gains in size and strength are spectacular. Imagine a thought experiment -- the 1966 Green Bay Packers, winners of the first Super Bowl, play 2010 Carolina Panthers, last season's worst NFL team. The 2010 Panthers would blow the 1966 Packers off the field, on size and strength alone.

In other football news, at last the annoying preseason has ended -- the owners should pay the fans to watch those games, rather than the other way around. Real football at last returns, along with the football artificial universe.

See the end for my Super Bowl pick. Bearing in mind this column's motto: All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back. TMQ is free, get it? So if by chance one of my predictions was correct, you would receive -- oh, never mind.

And now: still America's original all-haiku NFL season predictions.

AFC East

Need volunteers from
audience to play d-line.
New England P-Men.

Forecast finish: 11-5

Talk, talk, talk: they sure
can talk. When will back it up?
The Jersey/B Jets.

Forecast finish: 11-5

Return of Jason
Taylor: try him at QB.
Miami Dolphins.

Forecast finish: 8-8

Coming season is
all about luck -- Andrew Luck.
The Buffalo Bills.

Forecast finish: 2-14

[+] EnlargeStone Tools
Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty ImagesOur ancestors began making tools a mind-boggling 90,000 generations ago.

A Cosmic Thought: New research shows that the ancestors of humanity made stone tools in Africa nearly 1.8 million years ago, some 400,000 years earlier than previously thought. Such a span of time is difficult to conceptualize. Try this -- 1.8 million years was 90,000 generations ago.

As research advances and instruments improve, the cosmos looks steadily larger and more grand, the human experiment steadily older. Ninety thousand generations to advance from the chipped stone axe to the iPhone. What will society look like 90,000 generations hence?

NFC East

LeBron James, Chris Bosh
soon may take their talents here.
The Philly Eagles.

Forecast finish: 12-4

Since Super Bowl ring
have no playoff victory.
Jersey/A Giants.

Forecast finish: 10-6

Everything's big in
Texas, including Rob Ryan.
The Dallas Cowboys.

Forecast finish: 6-10

Honk if you've been Skins'
quarterback under Snyder.
Washington Redskins.

[+] EnlargeFanny Brice
AP PhotoSinger Fanny Brice, who wanted to be blue long before Boise State.

Forecast finish: 5-11

I'd Rather Be Blue (New Running Item): Corporations and universities may pursue frivolous trademark claims, especially if staff counsel needs to justify its paychecks. TMQ has noted that Syracuse and Clemson universities are fighting over the word "orange." Now reader Brian Buntman of Rochester Hills, Mich., reports that Boise State is trying to stop a Michigan high school from using the phrase "blue turf." At least Boise State does not claim to own the color blue. Oxford High won its first game played on its new bluish turfish stuff.

Here is Fanny Brice crooning "I'd Rather Be Blue." And here is a rare case of the Streisand rendition being better than the original.

AFC North

Six, count 'em six rings.
How many does your team have?
The Pittsburgh Steelers.

Forecast finish: 12-4

[+] EnlargeRaven
Sean Gallup/Getty Images"Must beat Steelers," quoth the raven.

"Must beat Steelers," says
the raven. Quoth him on that.
Bal-a-mer Ravens.

Forecast finish: 11-5

This year Falcons win:
Next year Browns get their draft picks.
Browns (2.1b).

Forecast finish: 6-10

Carson in exile:
Team cuts off nose to spite face.
The Cinncy Bengals.

Forecast finish: 4-12

OSU, Miami -- Birds of a Feather TMQ noted that caught in an NCAA scandal, Ohio State president Gordon Gee claimed the school's football program "ranked first in academic performance among the nation's top 25 teams." Problem -- this is not true. But Gee's statement was accepted by the media as if true. It's hard to know which is more dismaying -- the president of a major university trying to bluff his way out of a scandal with false claims, or the media for being too lazy to check.

[+] EnlargeDonna Shalala
University of Miami Donna Shalala, who's not hung up on whether what she says is, like, you know, true.

In our spin-cycle world, all that seems to matter is that Gee got away with it. Other colleges noticed! Last week Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami, tried to squirm her way out of The U's football scandal by declaring, "The academic achievements of our student-athletes are mentioned in the same breath and spirit as Notre Dame and Stanford."

As shown by Allie Grasgreen of the invaluable Inside Higher Ed, this claim too is simply not true, except in the literalist sense that Shalala herself mentioned the three schools in the same breath. The latest federal graduation rates, Grasgreen notes, show Notre Dame and Stanford graduated a very impressive 91 percent of their scholarship athletes, while the University of Miami graduated 67 percent. Notre Dame graduated 85 of its football players, Stanford 82 percent. Miami graduated 64 percent, only slightly above the Division I average (see below). "By the standard metrics used to gauge athletes' academic performance, Miami does not approach the other two universities," she writes.

Credit Inside Higher Ed for fact-checking a big school's flimsy excuse. Shalala says the University of Miami is "first and foremost, an academic institution." If so, that university's president should not be making specious claims.

The Miami and Ohio State football teams meet on Sept. 17. It's almost like the 1986 SMU Mustangs meeting the 2001 Crimson Tide. OSU-Miami should be blacked out for humanitarian reasons.

The NCAA Looks Worse Every Day Are Ohio State and Miami bad apples in a mostly good barrel? Check the recent findings of the College Sport Research Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The report concludes that the graduation gap -- football graduation rates versus the student body overall -- "is sizable, particularly for Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences that compete at the highest level." About 68 percent of male university students graduate, the report found, but only 54 percent of Division I football players graduate.

Perhaps you are thinking, "I am sick of hearing about poor academic performance in college sports. All I care about is the game." As economist Charles Clotfelter of Duke University points out in his important, meticulously researched new book "Big-Time Sports in American Universities," at major colleges, football and men's basketball are marketed as commercial entertainment that is aimed primarily at people who have nothing to do with the schools involved. And it's great entertainment. I woke up Thursday in a happy mood because college football started that day.

[+] EnlargeCentral Arkansas Field
Central ArkansasThe new Central Arkansas turf. Can an orange field for Texas be far behind?

But while the intended audience may care only about the games, when college football players spend four or five years focusing all their time and efforts on sports, then fail to graduate, they have been used up and thrown away by the system. Spectators and boosters get something out of the deal, namely, great entertainment. The players who don't graduate get nothing. And the NCAA does not seem to care, so long as the money flows. The NCAA says the right things for public consumption, but does nothing to change the collegiate incentive structure. As TMQ has noted before, just include graduation rates as a factor in BCS rankings, and overnight, football-factory coaches will start insisting their players be in class.

Blue Turf Is So 2008 Jim Johnston of Leesburg, Va., notes that Central Arkansas is debuting a field of alternating purple and gray stripes.

NFC North

Where fake cheese on head
is just simple common sense.
The Green Bay Packers.

Soldier Field
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesIn Chicago, the quality of the grass may not matter much.

Forecast finish: 13-3

Last playoff win was
in previous century.
The Detroit Lions.

Forecast finish: 9-7

Terrible grass on
playing field: and then it snows.
The Chicago Bears.

Forecast finish: 9-7

Favre at long last gone.
Wait -- he just texted Werder!
Minnesota Vikes.

Forecast finish: 4-12

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesOne coach who's gotten the message on reducing practice injuries.

Derek Sheely, 1989-2011 Last week's column focused on the need to reform football practice to reduce injuries. There is some good news on this score. Reader Bryan Cobb of Ponca City, Okla., reports that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has reduced the amount of contact in Cowboys' practices, hoping for fewer injuries.

And there is some bad news. Derek Sheely, a football player for Frostburg State University, collapsed in practice and later died. Head trauma is believed to be the cause.

Whether Sheely suffered one particularly severe blow in practice, or whether the accumulated harm from years of head hits added up, is not yet known. As last week's column noted, "The important forthcoming book 'The Concussion Crisis,' by Linda Carroll and David Rosner, details the evolving evidence that cumulative neurological damage from lots of routine hits does more total harm to football players than single events."

Sheely was airlifted to a hospital, where surgeons tried to save him by drilling holes in his skull. Head injuries cause the brain to swell, just as a sprained ankle swells. A sprained ankle simply expands, but because the skull is hard, a swelling brain has no place to go. Swelling from mild head trauma results in the blinding headaches associated with concussions, this pain being caused by the swollen brain trying to press outward against the skull. Bad swelling from a severe head trauma can cause death. Football lovers, do you think concussions are just a media scare story? Sheely got to a hospital almost immediately, surgeons pumped him with drugs and cut into his skull, and it was too late to save him.

[+] EnlargeDerek Sheely
Frostburg State University Derek Sheely, 1989-2011.

Sheely grew up in a town near mine; I saw him play in high school. One of his Northwest High School teammates, Edwin Miller, died two years ago, of heat stroke, after a practice. Sheely and Miller had been on the same field together, and now both are dead from harm suffered at football practice. True, if two high-school acquaintances perished in separate car crashes, this might be just tragic coincidence. But these deaths seem yet another warning that the standards of football practice must be changed to emphasize safety over victories.

AFC South

Manning's new contract:
Will he bail out Spain and Greece?
Indy Lucky Charms

Forecast finish: 12-4

Houston, we have a
problem: zero playoff games.
The Houston Texans.

Forecast finish: 10-6 (but not make playoffs)

First time Fisher not
coach since Clinton president.
Tennessee Titans.

Forecast finish: 6-10

Lost final three, missed
playoffs: Focus lacking here.
The Jacksonville Jags.

Forecast finish: 4-12

[+] EnlargeJuggernaut
20th Century Fox Hollywood rumor says Mel Kiper Jr. will be cast as The Juggernaut in the next "X-Men" movie.

Kiper Addendum: Sports figures are supposed to have nicknames, but Kiper is simply known as Mel Kiper Jr. TMQ proposes he be nicknamed The Juggernaut, as in the X-Man character. Think about his annual ESPN draft commentaries. Like The Juggernaut, once Kiper gets momentum, he becomes impossible to stop.

Why Aren't Prosecutors Charged With Misconduct? Criminal charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn have been dropped, though a civil case against him continues. DSK and his accuser Nafissatou Diallo have something in common -- both were mistreated by New York prosecutors.

When DSK was arrested, extensive detail of damning allegations -- whose truth or falsity had never been tested in court -- was leaked to the media, allegedly by prosecutors. When prosecutors turned against Diallo, they were again accused of leaking to the media damning allegations about her -- accusations that had never been heard by a judge or jury. In both instances, prosecutors apparently considered their own quest for publicity more important than the presumption of innocence.

This would have outraged the Framers, who imposed the grand jury system for the purpose of keeping accusations out of the media until they could be proven or disproved in court. As TMQ noted last year, "Prosecutors are supposed to charge people with crimes or leave them alone, not pass along allegations whose truth or falsity have never been assessed by a jury."

In the Framers' day, the British Crown harmed political opponents by leaking unproven allegations about them. The Framers wanted prosecutors to speak only in court under the supervision of judges, to prevent them from misusing their powers via off-the-record slander. Instead, today prosecutors, such as New York's Cyrus Vance Jr., face accusations that they leak allegations left and right, seeking publicity. Prosecutors call news conferences to get themselves on television, discussing as fact claims that have not been proven. This is at the least irresponsible, if not prosecutorial misconduct.

The DSK-Diallo case is not some weird aberration. In many instances, prosecutors do not merely make honest mistakes, rather, engage in active misconduct -- cases from the trumped-up charges against the late Alaska senator Ted Stevens to this horrifying instance in which prosecutors fabricated the evidence used to convince an innocent man of murder.

[+] EnlargeBronco Cheerleader
Denver Broncos Nikki of the Broncos cheerleaders, who will be a lot more pleasing to look at than the team this season.

Yet prosecutors almost always waltz away scot-free. And why don't major media outlets cry foul when government attorneys abuse their office? Because media outlets want leaks from prosecutors. Unproven allegations make for smokin' yellow journalism.

Streak Game of the Week: The Raiders at Broncos opener on "Monday Night Football" pits Denver's 24-3 home opener streak against Oakland's 7-0 streak in the division. That fact is important because it creates a cheap excuse to run a photo of Broncos' cheerleader Nikki, an elementary school teacher who probably does not remind you of your own elementary school teachers.

NFC South

No more Reggie Bush:
at least keep S. Bowl trophy.
The New Orleans Saints.

Forecast finish: 12-4

Dirty Birds become
Angry Birds: Packers the pigs.
Atlanta Falcons

Forecast finish: 12-4

Raheem goals for year:
playoffs, get learner's permit.
Tampa Buccaneers.

Forecast finish: 7-9

Cam: Blinn JC to
league's worst team. Could Cats beat Blinn?
Car'lina Panthers.

Forecast finish: 3-13

I, Reboot: This week DC Comics reboots its entire superhero line -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest get new backstories in editions labeled "Issue Number One." This is at least the third reboot of these comics, following the incomprehensible multiverse reboots of 1985 and 2005. (There are 196,833 universes containing 196,833 duplicates of Earth, each with slightly different superheroes -- don't ask.)

"Issue Number One" is always a collector's item, so there's commercial incentive to reboot. A primary function of the reboot in any entertainment medium is that continuity can be tossed out the window -- oh, how writers hate the continuity director. "Origin of" superhero stories have most appeal, so rebooting allows tinkering with that. Batman now has at least five origin stories in the comic books and graphic novels, plus at least three in the movies. In the Bible, Jesus had only two origin stories. Maybe DC Comics should start a line whose issues consist entirely of origin stories.

[+] EnlargeBatman Comic
AP Photo"Quick! Capture him before he's retconned!"

Back in the day when 14-year-old boys had only comic books and Playboy to read by flashlight after pretending to go to bed, comics had a strong market. Smartphones, easily hidden under the pillow, have changed that.

Though comic books must now compete with movies and the Web, TMQ thinks the core problem with superheroes is that they have become too powerful. The original Superman could jump long distances, not fly ("able to leap tall buildings in a single bound"), and was strong but not invincible. Now Superman can travel at warp speed, go backward in time, push entire planets.

The original Batman was a regular person in great physical condition, with gadgets on his belt. Now he can fly using his cape (do not don a cape and try this, you will plummet straight down), lift three times his body weight, has ultra-fast reflexes. The Flash and many other superheroes have gained far more powers than they originally possessed.

When superheroes have incredible powers, merely having them fight criminals quickly loses appeal, since obviously they'd win. So superheroes end up battling immortal entities from other dimensions, and every issue concludes with two gleaming figures in capes hurling energy bolts at each other. Bring back the era when Batman was foremost a detective, rather than a symbolic being dueling other symbolic beings.

AFC West

CBA -- abstained!
Will they abstain on the field?

The Oakland Raiders

Forecast finish: 11-5

Dominated stats;
stayed home in January.

San Diego Bolts.

Forecast finish: 10-6

Last playoff win was
versus Oilers, team that's gone.
Kansas City Chiefs.

Forecast finish: 6-10

At least cheerleaders
have winning look. Giddy up!
The Denver Broncos.

Forecast finish: 5-11

Christmas Creep: Reader Jimmy Luth of Alpharetta, Ga., reports, "My family went to Costco on a near 100-degree day toward the end of August. My 5-year-old Annabelle exclaimed 'What the heck!' and pointed at a display towering over most aisles -- of fully lit snowmen and Christmas decorations." Mike Morelli of Putnam Valley, N.Y., reports, "On Aug. 29, the Costco in Yonkers had a two-row display of Christmas related items, including multiple nativity scenes and light-up snowmen. In fairness to Costco, I must admit I fell for the idea, buying family members UCLA, Georgetown, Oklahoma and Indiana sweatshirts for Christmas for less than $15 each." Mike, now they'll know how little you paid!

Noah Egelnick, who lives on the Isle of Man, reports that in June he received an advert from this hotel urging him to prepay 25 pounds a head for Christmas dinner. Six months in advance! The hotel offers "lift to all floors" as well as "ensuite bathroom," meaning a bathroom in each guest room, rather than a common bath down the hall as in a bargain-priced European pensione.

Considering the continuous acceleration of holiday observance in American commerce, this year the Christmas Creep item is unlikely to last past Halloween, if it lasts till United Nations Day.

Unified Field Theory of Creep: Jimmy Petrino of Philadelphia notes that Philly bars and brewpubs went into full Oktoberfest mode on Sept. 1.

NFC West

Four straight coaches fired.
Steve, surely you feel secure.
The St. Louis Rams.

Forecast finish: 7-9, host playoff game

Cards outrushed by a
thousand yards. A scary stat.
AZ Cardinals.

Forecast finish: 7-9

May move to Santa
Clara -- closer to Stanford.
The Forty Niners.

Forecast finish: 6-10

Should have picked Pryor,
traded for Bush, hired Tressel.
Seattle Seahawks.

Forecast finish: 5-11

Brandon Lee Was Killed by a Dummy Bullet -- Yet in Cinema, Real Bullets Are Harmless: TMQ has been railing against Hollywood depicting heroic characters being shot yet instantly fine again, thus making gun violence seem far less deadly than it is.

[+] EnlargeRizzoli and Isles
TNTActress Angie Harmon on "Rizzoli and Isles," where realism doesn't bog things down.

In the fine 2010 remake of "True Grit," the heroic Texas Ranger played by Matt Damon is shot in the chest -- and instantly fine, without treatment. We see a small hole on the front of his coat and another on the back. "Bullet must have passed clean through you without doing any harm," Rooster Cogburn muses. These kinds of movie touches give audiences a highly distorted view of gun violence.

Not content with heroes merely being shot and yet unharmed, Hollywood is pushing the envelope. Reader Allen Forkner of Omaha, Neb., writes, "In "Die Hard 4" and in the first season finale of "Rizzoli and Isles," the heroes deliberately shoot themselves, so the bullet would pass through their own bodies and strike the baddie behind them. The bad person instantly dies, while the heroes are depicted as having 'merely a flesh wound.'

"In this Hollywood fantasy the bullet does no harm to the first person hit, the good guy, yet the same bullet retains enough energy to kill the second person hit. That aside, with very close-range gunshots, the bullet is only part of the problem. There is also the matter of hot, high-pressure gas following the bullet down the muzzle. Normally, the propelling gas harmlessly expands in the air. When the gun muzzle is in contact with the body, the gas enters the body and burns tissue, cauterizes arteries, damages organs. In both of these Hollywood depictions the hero, against whose body the gun is pressed, would have suffered significantly more damage than the evil-doer, because the hot expanding gas would have ripped up the hero's body."

In 1984, an actor named Jon-Eric Hexum was killed by expanding gas while filming a detective show for CBS. Clowning around, Hexum pressed a prop gun loaded with blanks to his head and pulled the trigger. Though the gun held no bullets, expanding gas from the propelling charge of the blank round was strong enough to shatter Hexum's skull and do fatal damage to his brain tissue. In 1993, actor Brandon Lee was killed filming a stunt when he was accidentally shot with an inert "dummy" bullet. This is what firearms do to the human body. Why must Hollywood glamorize violence by presenting guns as practically harmless?

Rare Case of Proof for TMQ Contention: Two weeks ago TMQ maintained that the financial structure of the NFL can mean teams that lose cheaply may enjoy higher profits than teams that invest to win. Turns out several professors have a journal article in press giving chapter and verse on this point.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma
AP Photo/Shawn YorksIdeal cycle of the small town -- leave young to experience the big city, come back when you're ready to appreciate the quiet life.

Reader Comments: Apropos the end of "Friday Night Lights," I noted the series depicted all the smart characters getting out of the small town of Dillon, Texas, while only the loser characters stayed behind. Trait Thompson of Oklahoma City writes, "I grew up in a small, central Texas town -- Brady, population 5,400. My peers with ambition all hoped to leave. It is a common sentiment when you interact with the same people year after year and daily life doesn't change that much. Yet some of those who left are now back, choosing to raise their kids in the protective, stable environment that a small town affords. It takes a few years of maturity to realize that how you grew up wasn't really so bad. I suggest that if we were to play out FNL's timeline, many of the smart characters on the show might come to a similar revelation and return to Dillon."

Angry Birds
Kurt Snibbe/ photo illustrationDirty Birds don't have an iPhone app.

TMQ proposed the Atlanta Falcons wear an Angry Birds alternative uniform as a cross-promotion with Rovio. Andrew Sugermeyer of Alexandria, Va., writes, "There are five NFL teams with feathered logos -- the Falcons, Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens and Seahawks. There are six primary angry birds -- red, green, blue, yellow, white and black. Yellow doesn't fit with any of the NFL bird teams. But five NFL teams could do Angry Birds alternative uniforms. The Cardinals would wear the white bird, the Eagles the green bird, the Seahawks the blue bird, the Falcons the red bird and the Ravens the black bird. This works out almost too perfectly not to set it up. Plus Rovio, much like the NFL, is in imminent danger of being overvalued."

Obscure College Score of the Week: Delaware Valley 10, Muhlenberg 9 in overtime. Six points were scored in four periods of regulation, followed by 13 points in one brief overtime. Located in Allentown, Pa., Muhlenberg College has just five weeks of classes before shutting down for fall break.

Bonus College Score: Jackson State 42, Concordia of Selma 2. The Hornets' faithful lament  if only we'd gotten 21 more safeties! Jackson State University is located in Jackson, Miss., which hosts an annual Celtic festival. Safety bonus: Wisconsin Stevens-Point defeated Willamette without the Pointers scoring a touchdown.

TMQ's Super Bowl Pick: On the eve of the 2009 season, your columnist forecast a Super Bowl of Indianapolis versus New Orleans. On the eve of the 2010 season, your columnist forecast of Super Bowl of Indianapolis versus Green Bay. So I've called three of the past four Super Bowl entrants. This is slightly better than the many expert forecasts noted in last season's Bad Predictions Review. (Note to readers: which was the series finale for Bad Predictions Review.)

Who should I pick this season? Better not choose Pittsburgh, since the AFC has had a different champion for six straight years. Better not choose Green Bay, since the NFC has had a different champion for 13 straight years. Not that this has anything to do with what happens in 2011, any more than a coin coming up heads 10 straight times has anything to do with what will happen on the 11th flip. Still, in sports guesswork, superstition is as useful a guide as anything else.

[+] EnlargeNarnia
Walt Disney Pictures "Oh Aslan, what will happen if Peyton Manning can't start against the Texans?"

For the next big game, TMQ again likes Indianapolis versus New Orleans -- which would make the Colts the first-ever home Super Bowl team.

Age and general wheeze-out could do Indianapolis in. But the Colts are on the cusp of becoming the first NFL team ever to reach the postseason for 10 consecutive years, and that is none too shabby. The Peyton Manning Golden Age will end -- Narnia ended, too -- but isn't over quite yet. If Manning goes on injured reserve, my AFC choice switch to New England.

As for the Saints, they won it all two years ago, and looked poised to repeat till a rash of late-season injuries in 2010. New Orleans had a tremendous offseason in personnel terms, and in Sean Payton, has the NFL's best playcaller. Coaches have good and bad games, just like players. Nobody does a better game-day job under clock pressure than Payton.

Next Week: During the preseason, Tuesday Morning Quarterback uses "vanilla" items designed to confuse scouts from other sports columns. Next week when the season starts for real, I will come at readers from all directions using unorthodox sentence structures and sudden unexpected amphiboly, appositives, recursive categorical syntax, tertium comparisons and hypocatastasis.

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for Page 2, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of the new book "Sonic Boom" and six other books. He writes a politics column for Reuters, and is a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly. His website can be found here, and you can follow TMQ on Twitter.

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