Want to know what trends will dominate the NFL in five years? Attend a high school or small-college football game. Because tactics on display during the NFL's opening weekend were high school and small college all the way.
The big ideas on offense in the NFL in recent seasons -- the zone-read rush, the spread-option action, the quick-snap no-huddle -- come from prep or college play. Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly's Blur Offense, which scored 34 unanswered points in its Sunday comeback, owes more to high school theory than NFL experience. The Seattle Seahawks' zone-read, which just helped them win the Super Bowl, owes more to college play than pro results.
Here's the story. Multiple-receiver sets, which trace at least back to TCU in the late 1940s, were well-established in the NFL a quarter century ago. They've been nearly humdrum since before many current NFL players were born.
The very fast pace, on the other hand, was tried by Buffalo during the 1991 and 1992 seasons, then dropped. About 15 years ago, high school coaches began to revive the idea -- especially coaches with skinny players who couldn't execute a traditional high school power-I. Art Briles, later RG III's coach at Baylor, instituted a very-quick-snap offense at Stephenville High in Texas. It clicked. A man named Tony Franklin began selling a package of playbooks and practice manuals called the Franklin System to prep coaches, who used it to install hurry-up offenses that exhaust opponents.
Pro coaches, including Bill Belichick, the winningest active NFL coach, noticed that hurry-up football was working below the pro level -- including at Troy University, where Franklin's system converted a perennial also-ran into a conference contender. Belichick was attracted to no-huddle tactics because they usually increase the number of snaps a team gets. More snaps, more yards gained. By 2013, the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and other NFL teams were quick-snap.
Around the same time, prep and small-college coaches were developing the zone-read. Success has many fathers: The zone-read's parentage is disputed. Just one example: Appalachian State employed the zone-read en route to an FCS title three-peat from 2005 to 2007, and perhaps you've heard about the game the Mountaineers played in 2007 at Michigan. At Florida with Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer merged zone-read rushing and multiple-receiver sets into the spread-option. NFL coaches noticed.
Fast forward to the 2014 NFL. Opening day pitted defending champion Seattle's zone-read against Green Bay's very-quick-snap no-huddle. The Seahawks also showed the "fly sweep," a trendy play in the NCAA. The Miami Dolphins defeated the favored Patriots partly by faking a zone-read rush one way, then throwing the other way for a touchdown. (New England fears this action because the Dolphins' 2008 use of the Wildcat formation, which involves a zone-read between the tackles, led to a memorable Miami win.) The Buffalo Bills' first touchdown in its upset of the Bears came when the Bills faked a zone-read right, then their quarterback bootlegged left. Consecutive zone-read runs in the final minute of the first half had the San Francisco 49ers ahead 28-3 at the intermission in Dallas. And on opening weekend nearly every team, especially high-scoring Denver, employed the hitch screen that is every contemporary college coach's favorite call. Long after the clock struck midnight east of the Mississippi, the Cardinals used a college-style "smoke" variation of the hitch screen to cap their comeback against the Chargers.
There's so much pressure and money on the line in the NFL, coaches are reluctant to try an untested tactic. So they scan the prep and college ranks, looking for ideas that someone else has already ironed out. What new offenses are being tested at the prep level right now? If you've seen one, let me know @EasterbrookG.
In football economics: "Sway to the left, sway to the right, to get fair pay you have to fight!" The Raiderettes won their legal confrontation with the Oakland Raiders. After attorney's fees the settlement works out to about $6,000 per season per cheerleader between 2010-12, and $2,500 per cheerleader for 2013, which is not much, but gets the foot firmly planted in the door for better agreements in the future -- at Oakland, and the league's other teams with cheer squads.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback has been pounding the table for years about the fact that men who represent the NFL as players, coaches and executives are lavishly paid, while the league's sole female faces on the sidelines get next to nothing: deals that work out to around a few dollars per hour when rehearsal time is included. See this 2009 passage headlined "Cheerleader Exploitation". The National Football League is giving off so many bad vibrations on so many levels that it could win a little good press by mandating fair pay for the pep squad.
In prediction news, my ideal Super Bowl would pair the Bills versus the Vikings. Minnesota and Buffalo are the sole clubs 0-4 in the ultimate contest: If they faced each other, one of them would have to win! But the Vikes and Bills are long shots, and that's sugarcoating it. So my Super Bowl pick is Denver over New Orleans. My alternative-jersey pick is Seattle over Indianapolis. Just remember this column's motto: All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back.
Bolts Don't Like Playing Under the Lights: It was dark -- and late -- in Arizona for the second game of the "Monday Night Football" doubleheader. San Diego isn't a night-life town, not like Los Angeles or San Francisco. San Diego has a huge Navy facility where people keep regular hours, and has the surf scene, which starts at dawn then shuts down at dark. Maybe that's why the Chargers cannot handle MNF.
For the third consecutive season they lost a seemingly comfortable second-half lead on MNF. They lost a 24-point second-half lead to Denver in 2012, a 21-point second-half lead to Houston in 2013 and on Monday night, an 11-point fourth-quarter lead in Arizona. The Chargers should ask to play only in daylight. They're not night owls.
A big factor was the injury to star center Nick Hardwick. Twice in the fourth quarter, his backup, Rich Ohrnberger, was guilty of bad snaps on third down: one pushing the Bolts out of field goal position, another messing up a makeable third-and-2. Why didn't San Diego coaches put Philip Rivers under center rather than ask the backup to make lots of shotgun snaps? Arizona saw the substitution and blitzed over center often in the second half. Ohrnberger was concerned about blocking the blitzers, and botched snaps. Coaches failed to provide the tactics change that was needed.
Arizona's college-themed winning touchdown came with 2:32 remaining and the Cactus Wrens on the Bolts' 13. The call was the "smoke" variation of the hitch screen -- wide receiver John Brown stepped backward as blockers went downfield in front of him, then took a sideways pass and skedaddled to the end zone. Nice play, but the smoke variation of the hitch screen, which is legal in the NCAA, isn't legal in the NFL. In college an offensive lineman may be downfield if the pass is caught behind the line of scrimmage; in the NFL, that's not the case. Arizona left tackle Jared Veldheer was downfield before Brown made the catch. It wasn't exactly the sequel to the Fail Mary, but once again, a "Monday Night Football" contest was decided by a late bad officiating call.
Stats of the Week #1: Stretching back to the start of the 2013 season, the Kansas City Chiefs have followed a 9-0 streak with a 2-7 streak.
Stats of the Week #2: Seven of the past nine New Orleans-Atlanta games have been decided by six points or fewer.
Stats of the Week #3: Since the start of the 2012 season, Green Bay is 2-6 versus NFC West teams, 18-9-1 versus all other divisions' teams.
Stats of the Week #4 The Lions broke an 0-6 streak against Eli and Peyton Manning.
Stats of the Week #5: In their past two outings, the St. Louis Rams have been outscored 61-15.
Stats of the Week #6: Houston and Washington entered their Sunday meeting on a combined 0-22 streak.
Stats of the Week #7: The Raiders have not won in the Eastern Time Zone since 2009.
Stats of the Week #8: Ohio native Ben Roethlisberger is 18-1 as a starter versus the Cleveland Browns, who passed on him in the 2004 draft.
Stats of the Week #9: Facing BYU twice in 365 days, the University of Texas was outscored by a combined 81-28 while surrendering 798 rushing yards.
Stats of the Week #10: In its past 20 games, Seattle has allowed 137 second-half points -- fewer than seven points per second half.
Sweet Play of the Week: The defending champions' first 2014 touchdown was also their first sweet play. With the Packers leading 7-3, Seattle had first-and-10 on the Green Bay 33. Run-first in the pass-wacky modern NFL, the Bluish Men Group usually rush on first down, thus Green Bay was expecting a run. Seattle faked a zone-read run going right; split left, Ricardo Lockette made the traditional NFL wide receiver's half-hearted attempt to block, then Lockette shot downfield and Russell Wilson lofted him a touchdown pass. Lockette deliberately looked like a lazy blocker because that's what NFL defensive backs expect to see from prima donna receivers! Sweet.
The Packers have opened three consecutive seasons with a loss to an NFC West team: If they never face this division again, it'll be too soon. (Green Bay doesn't play an NFC West team again in the regular season.) The Packers snapped super-quick, hoping to gain extra plays while preventing Seattle from "rolling" its defensive linemen to keep them fresh. The tactic didn't work: The Pack ended up with only 58 snaps, a below-average number. Scoring to pull within 29-16 on the road midway through the fourth quarter against one of the league's top ball-control teams, Packers coach Mike McCarthy did not order an onside kick. How'd that work out for you?
After barely blitzing in the Super Bowl, the Bluish Men Group barely blitzed again: just once in the first half. The sack of Aaron Rodgers on fourth-and-5 and the Green Bay safety both resulted from a conventional four-man rush. Seattle linebackers dropped so deep that mike man Bobby Wagner drew a pass interference penalty 44 yards downfield. Pete Carroll played it conservative on offense until, leading 29-16 with 2:37 remaining, he went for it on fourth down from the Green Bay 15: Touchdown, and the crowd heads for the exits.
Sour Play of the Week: With the Cincinnati Bengals leading 15-0, the Baltimore Ravens faced third-and-10 on the Bengals' 15 with 8 seconds remaining before intermission, holding a timeout. No one was open: Rather than throw the ball away, Joe Flacco scrambled around, then let the clock expire. Ye gods. It's been quite a comedown since 19 months ago when Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: With Miami leading New England 23-20 with five minutes remaining, the Dolphins faced third-and-6 on the Flying Elvii 24. A few snaps before, Miami watched tight end Dion Sims drop a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone. Settling for the field goal seemed likely. Instead Mike Wallace caught a short crosser and ran 17 yards, setting up the touchdown that put the hosts in command. Sweet. Wallace, a speed merchant, was covered on the play by linebacker Jamie Collins. Sour. Both teams opened in a conventional huddle-based offense. After intermission, Miami picked up the pace by going no-huddle, scoring 23 second-half points compared to 10 first-half points. New England stuck with the pre-snap committee meeting and was sluggish -- a quick-snap pace seems more to Tom Brady's liking. Maybe Belichick is intimidated by Miami; he is 7-8 there as the Patriots' coach. The Marine Mammals announced a gate crowd of 70,630, but many spectators seemed to come dressed as empty seats, as the saying goes.
Sweet 'N' Sour Matched Set: With the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter, the Bears had third-and-1 on the Buffalo 34. Jay Cutler faked a toss left against a defense overstacked anticipating a run, then rolled right, hoping for a home run. The Bills had the intended receiver covered. Rather than try to run for the first, or simply throw the ball away, Cutler heave-hoed a crazy across-the-body pass that was intercepted by defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Very sour.
Now the game is in overtime, with Buffalo facing second-and-5 on the Chicago 39. The Bears had already possessed the ball, so the fifth quarter has become next-score-wins. Buffalo lined up tight end Scott Chandler as an extra blocking back. At the snap, Chandler went right, and the offensive line zone-blocked right. Tailback Fred Jackson, at 33 the league's oldest running back, went "under the blocks" toward the left, as the entire Chicago defense reacted to misdirection the other way. Jackson reached the Chicago 1: The winning field goal followed a moment later. Sweet.
Pro Football Attitudes Toward Violence Against Women: Ray Rice has been released by the Ravens and indefinitely banned by the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have known for seven months that Rice attacked then-fiancée Janay Palmer "by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious." Ours is a visual society, reacting more viscerally to graphic images (such as a beheading in Syria) than to written information (such as at least 50,000 civilians dead in Syria). Even so, that Goodell and the Ravens knew for months that Rice punched Palmer, and took almost no action until the visual proof was revealed, suggests the league and the Ravens care only about money, not about social responsibility. As long as they could put Rice back on the field and use him to generate excitement about NFL games, all was well. Now that they can't, he's waived and suspended.
Rice, a first-time offender, bears guilt but is not a criminal in legal terms. He was placed into a pretrial diversion program by a New Jersey judge. Legal thinking has long held that first-time offenders should be treated leniently. Perhaps the judge gave Rice special treatment because he's a football star. If so, that is a condemnation of society, not of Rice. If pretrial diversion is a common outcome for first-time domestic offenders in New Jersey, then the legal part of the decision was appropriate.
The NFL says its initial insensitivity to the situation was an honest mistake. Don't believe that for a moment. For the proof, one need only go to Canton, Ohio, where O.J. Simpson's bust is on display. Simpson currently sits in prison for armed robbery; a California civil jury found him liable in the wrongful death of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Yet O.J. Simpson remains an honored figure at Canton. His Hall of Fame bio says a lot about rushing yards -- doesn't get around to mentioning that the California jury deemed him a woman killer. O.J.'s name also remains on the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a publicly owned facility. Will the Bills' new owner leave the name of someone everyone believes is a woman-killer on the stadium wall? Since Wilson Stadium is owned by Erie County, New York, and financed largely by New York State, where is the Erie County legislature? Where is Gov. Andrew Cuomo?
As for the Hall of Fame, it might be a private facility, but it's tax-exempt, claiming to serve public purpose. Its Form 990 shows that in 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available, the Hall of Fame sheltered $31 million from taxation. Publicly subsidized, while extolling to the public a man who committed the ultimate act of domestic violence.
Don't tell me the NFL has no influence over the Hall of Fame -- that's a transparent smokescreen. And don't tell me only on-the-field performance should count toward Hall of Fame membership. Anyone who thinks that thinks character does not matter.
Perhaps the whole message of the NFL's treatment of Ray Rice is that people at the top of the football establishment in fact think that character does not matter so long as the money is flowing.
Broncos Up To 16-4 At Home Under Manning: Since arriving at Denver, Peyton Manning has 95 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions, which really is not too shabby. In the opener, he was under center more than last season, and the Broncos often did not employ the quick-snap pace they favored in 2013. Perhaps offensive coordinator Adam Gase accepts after the Super Bowl blowout that his charges sometimes will need to exert clock control.
Denver almost always had five receivers in the pattern. The five-receiver action is vulnerable to the blitzer who comes through unblocked, and that happened three times, including a third-and-6 sack of Manning late during the Indianapolis comeback attempt. Since Indianapolis showed this can work, Gase should be alert for "green dog" blitzing this season -- if a linebacker sees that it's a five-man pattern and there is a lane to Manning, he charges.
As for the Colts, they are relentless, seeming to come on exactly the same whether way ahead or way behind. Over the course of a long season, that's a quality trait.
Note to Defenders, Please Cover Calvin Johnson: The Lions' AAU-style roster finally put on the display of basketball on grass that they've been hoping to show the nation. OK, basketball on turf. The hosts jumped to a quick lead then spun the scoreboard again in the second half in response to a Jersey/A rally. They put up 341 yards passing, 76 yards rushing -- exactly what the Lions' offense is built to do. Sacks and takeaways -- exactly what the Lions' defense is built to do. So the season starts with a party for Detroit. But Lions fans should not attach too much significance to this contest. Their next opponents, Carolina and Green Bay, are stronger teams.
The Giants' offensive line managed to look even worse than expected. Only two sacks allowed, but Eli Manning threw early repeatedly owing to pressure. On a third-and-6 sack, Jersey/A had six to block four, yet a Lions defender came through untouched. On a third-and-10, left tackle Will Beatty went low to cut block Ziggy Ansah, who leapt over him and pressured Manning to throw the ball away. Tackles cut-block on screens and quick slants, not on dropback pocket passes! This wasn't just being outperformed, this was poor fundamentals.
Why Do Movie Monsters Roar? It Never Scares Away Tanks: The latest "Godzilla" -- a reboot of a remake of an adaptation of a sequel -- is out on DVD this week. Theatrical release caused your columnist to watch the flick that started it all, the 1954 film "Gojira." You can now watch online the original Japanese version, not the Americanized variant into which Raymond Burr was spliced to create an English-speaking authority figure. Here is what struck me about the original "Godzilla":
• Though it's only a decade after Japan was laid waste by World War II, Tokyo is gleaming. Everyone's well-dressed, prosperous and attending swell parties.
• The film contains hardly any references to the war or politics. No one mentions America. No one says, "Maybe if we hadn't thrown away our navy, we could deal with a sea monster." Aircraft from around the world land in Tokyo with emergency supplies. But no nation's military appears, and none is summoned.
• The final scene has a wise man say, "If this creature has been in hibernation since the era of the dinosaurs, he is unlikely to be the sole survivor of his species. We may not have seen the last of them." Even in 1954, setting up the sequel was part of filmmaking.
In "Gojira," the monster is said to be 165 feet tall. In "Godzilla" 2014, the titular character is said by a military analyst to be 350 feet tall. But when Zilla stands next to the Golden Gate Bridge, his chest and head are above the bridge travel lanes. Since the bridge clearance is 220 feet and the Golden Gate Strait is about 300 feet deep, to stand in his manner, Godzilla would need to be about 700 feet tall. Ads for the flick show Godzilla twice the height of San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid, which is 853 feet, rendering the monster at least 1,500 feet. Just how tall is this guy? Computer-generated special effects ought to be consistent.
In the 2014 movie, America's hopes are pinned on a single Navy surface battle group. The Air Force has vanished, none of the nation's 10 nuclear supercarriers is available and the Navy has forgotten completely about attack submarines, which would seem the ideal counter to a sea monster. The task force is led by the USS Saratoga. OK, it's a movie. But the Saratoga, a turbine-powered ship built during the Korean War, was decommissioned in 1994.
Though it is established early on that tanks are useless against Godzilla and the MUTO creatures, special forces armed only with carbines continually are placed into the monsters' paths. The special forces units don't even have grenade launchers. At one point, a paratrooper confidently cocks a sidearm to go into battle with a 500-foot-tall radioactive freak of nature.
When the military decides to lure the monsters toward a nuclear bomb to be set off in the Pacific Ocean, instead of simply using one of the many nuclear bombs present in a carrier task force, the Pentagon decides to ship a warhead very slowly by train from North Dakota to California. The train stops in small towns to board passengers, as if on a sightseeing tour. Then the train crosses a rickety wooden bridge that appears to have been built in 1850 by gandy dancers. Of course, at the rickety bridge, monsters attack.
The MUTOs, which feed on radioactivity, smash their way into the Yucca Mountain disposal site to eat the nuclear waste. This actually would solve any number of political headaches -- but so far there is no nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, which the Obama Administration has been trying to block from going into operation.
Perhaps a dozen times in the flick, a character turns around to realize in horror that Godzilla or one of the MUTOs is standing right there. How does a million-ton creature sneak up on someone?
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk (College Edition): Favored Stanford lost to USC on turnovers and missed field goals. Or was the reason punting? Reader Andy Korger of Madison, Wisconsin, was among many to note the Cardinal punted from the USC 32 and USC 29. In college ball, that's the Maroon Zone -- where it's too far for a field goal but too close to punt. Each case was fourth-and-long, but what difference does that make? Better to try than passively surrender possession. In the 2013 NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks scored a touchdown on fourth-and-long from the Santa Clara 35.
During the contest Saturday, USC athletic director Pat Haden came onto the sideline to remonstrate with the referee. ESPN devoted a chunk of airtime to debating Haden's action -- an action that was odd but ultimately trivial. Why didn't they talk about USC's 53 percent football graduation rate? That's really important to people's lives -- and has any college football broadcaster for any network mentioned it on-air?
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk (Pro Edition): In the Washington-at-Houston collision, sure-to-be-former R*dsk*ns coach Jay Gruden had the choice of accepting a penalty to make it Houston third-and-11 or declining to make it Houston fourth-and-1 at midfield. Gruden declined the penalty, secure in the belief that a punt would boom, as it did.
Wacky Wine of the Week: With thousands of bottles of wine smashed during the Napa Valley earthquake (was there panic buying, wine hoarding?) oenophiles were in the news. Reader Nick Schmidt of Madison, Wisconsin, notes more proof of TMQ's contention that not only are wine critics pulling words out of the air -- "gallantry, with an aftertaste of summer rain" -- but cannot come to the same conclusion on a consistent basis. For their part, wine juries are handing out wine awards basically at random.
Last spring, the New York Times gushed over how some rich person spent $476,405 for "12 bottles of 1978 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, described by one expert as 'as close to perfect as wine gets.'" That's $39,700 per bottle, and could even a wine snob taste the difference between a 1978 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and a $10 Snap Dragon?
NFL Game Pairs Josh McCown, Derek Anderson at Quarterback: New City of Tampa coach Lovie Smith is known for being conservative and was true to form against Carolina. Trailing 10-0 in third quarter, Smith ordered a punt from the Panthers 36. Trailing 17-0 early in the fourth quarter, Smith ordered a punt on fourth-and-1. Scoring to pull within 17-7 with seven minutes remaining, Smith had Bucs kick away rather than use an onside kick. Then at 17-14 just before the two minute warning, again kicked away.
Still, the game came down to a hidden play. Hidden plays are ones that never make highlight reels but sustain or stop drives. Cats ahead 17-14 and facing third-and-9 with 1:52 remaining, Carolina emergency quarterback Derek Anderson, making his first start since Dec. 5, 2010, threw the ball directly into the hands of Bucs' safety Dashon Goldson at the Panthers' 30. Goldson dropped it.
Make Up Your Minds!: One year ago there was strong voter opposition to President Barack Obama's proposed Syria airstrikes. Now there is strong support. More has become known about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the intervening year. But voters wanted Obama not to act; Obama didn't act; now voters are upset by the consequences of the inaction they counseled. If the United States does bomb Syria, public opinion might rapidly turn against the president for doing exactly what public opinion now supports.
This is another argument that war-making decisions should be reserved for Congress. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, what Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution specifies. Is Congress zany? Obviously. But the Framers meant to vest Congress, not the White House and not public sentiment, with America's war-making powers. Two-hundred twenty-five years later, their instinct still seems correct. And don't tell me dropping bombs isn't declaring war! That's like Bill Clinton saying oral sex isn't sex.
Former Clinton aide William Galston, a neoliberal who has emerged as one of the country's top political columnists, notes in the Wall Street Journal what a get-tough public opinion about foreign affairs means for the final Obama years.
Saints Gain 472 Yards, Lose: In 2012, the New Orleans defense allowed the worst yardage total in NFL annals. Last year, the Saints' defense rose to fourth overall. Maybe 2013 was a misprint! Sunday, New Orleans was torched for 568 yards by the Atlanta offense.
Holding a lead late in the fourth quarter, the Saints did the unthinkable and shifted to a "prevent" defense, with safety Jairus Byrd so deep he looked like he expected to receive a kickoff. The only thing the "prevent" defense prevents is punts: You don't need to know anything else about the contest except that New Orleans switched to the prevent defense. On the other side of the ball, Drew Brees looked off, missing several open receivers. Why am I not deterred from picking this team to reach the Super Bowl? New Orleans often starts with a loss. At 17-31, the Saints have the league's worst opening-day record.
The Falcons put consistent pressure on Brees, seeming to rattle him. If Matt Ryan's crew returns to its winning ways in Georgia, the Falcons could be a contender. Ryan was on a 34-7 streak at home, then went 3-5 at home in 2013 and now starts the new season 1-0 at home.
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Peter Berk of Chicago reports that in summer 2014, NBC began airing commercials for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Reader Bryan Mercer of Queens, New York, reports that not only did Dunkin Donuts begin selling pumpkin donuts, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin lattes on Labor Day , but on Sept. 2, he heard a Dunkin Donuts radio ad proclaiming: "Apple cider is back, get some before fall is over." Fall, Mercer notes, hasn't even started. This year's autumnal equinox is Sept. 22.
Brandon White of Ashland, Oregon, notes Subway began selling its "fall special" submarine -- turkey with cranberry sauce -- on Sept. 1, three weeks before fall. It's a Chinese tradition to exchange mooncakes on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Stephanie Ye of Redlands, California, notes this year the Mid-Autumn Festival is on Sept. 8, 14 days before the beginning of autumn.
Concussion Watch: Is reducing sports concussions mainly an educational issue: teaching players and coaches about the problem? Or mainly a research issue: more study needed? In the new issue of AANS Neurosurgeon, Canadian physicians Ross E. G. Upshur and Paul Echlin argue that sports concussions are fundamentally a public health issue.
If sports concussions are fundamentally a public health issue, that means legislation is justified. Echlin writes: "Options include changes that would decrease the number of violent collisions secondary to natural laws; including increasing the size of the playing surfaces and decreasing the number of participants on the field of play. We should also consider eliminating the use of the head in games like soccer and enforcing significant suspensions to participants or supervising adults involved in games in which head injuries occur."
StubHub World: A few days before the NFL opener, low, 30-yard-line seats behind the Dallas bench for the glam-factor Santa Clara 49ers-at-Dallas Cowboys contest were going for up to $3,000. Similar excellent seats -- low, midfield, behind home bench -- for the zero-glam Oakland-at-Jersey/B contest were asking $750. The best seats for the Rams' opener could be had for just $200.
Several NFL teams are trying to keep the premiums that StubHub and Ticketmaster earn; the tactic is variable pricing, charging more for desirable games. For instance the Bills want a "gold" price for early-season, good-weather contests versus the Patriots and Dolphins, but only a "bronze" price for later games versus the Chiefs and Browns, when it's cold and the Bills' playoff hopes might be a distant memory. The home finale, versus the Packers, is a "silver" price, the logic being that even in December, Buffalo's football-wise fan base will want to watch the storied Green Bay franchise.
Having trouble selling seats, City of Tampa cut to the chase and last week told season-ticket holders they could bring two friends to the opener at no charge.
Chuck Todd, Man of Good Taste: Chuck Todd had a busy week, what with interviewing both Obama and yours truly. My security detail was smaller. For me, the forum was "Unscripted with Chuck Todd," his SiriusXM radio show. Chuck had a great point about the sinister supervillain this column calls Chainsaw Dan. Todd said, "Dan Snyder is a hated individual among that fan base -- until the last six months when he has been so aggressively fighting the league, fighting the politically correct crowd. ... It's the first time ... the actual fan base of the Washington franchise has liked something the owner has done. And that that may be what motivates Snyder."
Todd also had this to say: "Nothing causes me to miss more meetings and phone calls than reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback."
Does Dan Snyder Coach Special Teams?: After allowing three blocked kicks in 2013 -- many NFL teams didn't allow any -- the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons began the 2014 season by allowing two blocked kicks. Just to prove it was no fluke, a R*dsk*ns special teams blocker accidentally tackled a R*dsk*ns return man.
Government Corruption Keeps Getting Worse: Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was just found guilty of 11 counts of corruption in a case that began when the governor's chef spilled the cannellini beans to detectives. Former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who recently completed a prison sentence for corruption, is now on trial for corruption again. (Double jeopardy doesn't protect him; the new allegation concerns a different event.) Current members of Congress Chaka Fattah and Michael Grimm face corruption allegations.
The former mayor of New Orleans recently was sentenced to 10 years for taking bribes. The mayor of Charlotte resigned because of corruption allegations. The chauffeur of Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray now is the sixth person to become a felon in the ongoing D.C. city government corruption investigation.
The former head of CalPERS, the California pension fund, admitted taking $200,000 in bribes as cash in shoeboxes and paper sacks. A leading California state senator, and 28 other current or former California officials, have been arrested in a complicated corruption case in which one of the FBI agents is also accused of financial misconduct. Leland Yee, the state senator, was a leading legislative backer of strict gun control in the Golden State. The allegations include that once he got controls enacted, he conspired to run a gun-running operation -- driving up the price for illegals guns by eliminating competition from reasonably priced, lawfully obtained guns.
If it's any consolation, several leading current or former French government officials are being prosecuted for corruption. Under investigation is France's Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund. Increasingly, the top of French society looks like aristocrats who talk socialism but practice crony capitalism.
This column has contended for several years that government corruption is a much larger problem than commonly understood -- not a relic of Boss Tweed days, but an ongoing issue.
Some of the wave of political corruption might simply be personal failing: McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were shown in court to be self-centered liars. But another reason might be the four stimulus bills (one under George W. Bush, three under Barack Obama) that distributed $1.4 trillion outside of normal, established channels. Much of the money in the stimulus bills went directly to individuals as tax credits, bonus Social Security payments, extra unemployment insurance and in similar benefits. But tens of billions of dollars were for the kind of infrastructure and local-promotion accounts over which state and city politicians have control. So where are the bridges, subways and schools that were supposed to result? My suspicion is much of the money was either stolen or distributed to cronies. Sudden let's-spend-money-fast bills enacted with little scrutiny created cookie jars. The recession that began in 2008 might have led to pervasive government corruption -- and the prosecutions might just be beginning.
Everybody's Above Average: Last week's TMQ NFL predictions are certain to be off base -- this column's motto is "All Predictions Wrong Or Your Money Back." But at least they added up to 256-256, making it mathematically possible they will turn out to be correct. Reader Zachary Vogt of Bloomington, Indiana, notes NFL Nation predictions added up to 287-225, 31 more victories than possible, with 17 teams having winning seasons and the worst finish being only 6-10. The NFL Nation crew makes predictions independent of each other, so in theory could predict that every club will finish 16-0.
The NFL Has No Shame: As part of the Minnesota Super Bowl bid, the NFL demanded free police escorts for billionaire owners. Why isn't this sort of thing viewed as white-collar crime? The intent is to pilfer the public's money. NFL owners are private-business people. If they want security beyond what is normally accorded by law enforcement, they could pay for it themselves. But the escorts aren't for security, they are to allow NFL owners to speed through traffic, run red lights and cut to the heads of lines.
The NFL further demanded free presidential hotel suites -- and all revenue from game ticket sales. Minnesota officials refused to tell the Minneapolis Star Tribune what concessions the government-run host committee agreed to, citing -- get this -- "state data privacy laws." The stadium where the Super Bowl will be played is being built with almost $500 million in public money; saying its event contracts are cloaked by "data privacy" is obvious hooey. Months or years from now, some freedom of information filing will result in disclosure of exactly what giveaways Minnesota officials agreed to. By then, the handouts will be too late to change.
Minnesota's reputation for clean government is being tarnished by the hanky-panky involved both in the building of the heavily subsidized new Vikings field and the crony-capitalism involved in acquisition of the 2018 Super Bowl. Check the host committee. Of the nine members, one is an NFL official, one an NBA official, four are Minneapolis development officials whose careers will be advanced by Super Bowl shoulder-rubbing, and three are corporate CEOs. There's no one representing the public interest. The result is a deal that's full of giveaways to the 1 percent -- taxpayers fund the venue, the NFL keeps all profit, while owners receive special treatment denied to taxpayers. Why do Minnesota voters tolerate this?
Not Dressed For Success: The British royal family's panic over the prospect of losing Scotland was expressed by Prince Charles' making public appearances wearing kilts. Were I a Scot, the sight of the dithering Charlie (still a mommy's-boy at age 65!) in my national dress would, alone, inspire me to pull the lever for independence.
The Law Of Comebacks: TMQ's Law of Comebacks holds: Defense starts comebacks, offense stops them. Trailing visiting Michigan State 27-18 in the third quarter, the Oregon Ducks began a defense-led comeback, holding the Spartans scoreless for the remainder of the contest. Trailing the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars 17-0 in the third quarter, the Philadelphia Eagles began a defense-led comeback, holding the Jaguars scoreless for the remainder of the contest. Since the Ducks and the Eagles are football's Blur Offense teams, watching them win using defense must have been a strange feeling for the home crowds.
In Praise Of Buses: Every once in a while I comes across an article that makes me say, "Boy I wish I'd thought of that." Here is one such article. Daniel Gross of Slate shows that replacing dirty urban buses that spew diesel exhaust with clean, electric-powered buses would do more to reduce greenhouse gases, and to improve public health, than anything highly subsidized Tesla might accomplish.
Public-policy wonks have never shown much interest in buses, because they don't ride them. But buses are vital to transportation for average people, and also integral to air-pollution statistics. Cleaning up buses is an important task, while Bus Rapid Transit, such as proposed for Nashville, is far more affordable and practical than building new subways or trolleys. Above-ground trolley lines proposed for the nation's capital area are projected to cost at least $150 million per mile, versus $36 million per mile for Bus Rapid Transit.
So combine the two ideas -- Bus Rapid Transit using electric buses. That's a practical, cost-effective way to improve mass transportation while reducing air pollution and petroleum use. In the past decade, the federal government has borrowed lavishly for infrastructure projects that haven't happened because they are absurdly overpriced, such as bullet trains in California. How about switching to the doable objective of improved clean-bus service?
College Roundup: MIT and Pomona-Pitzer, two academics-oriented colleges -- actually three, since Pomona College and Pitzer College combine their NCAA programs -- completed a home-and-home. Last year, MIT went to California to play Pomona-Pitzer; this year Pomona-Pitzer brought its angry sailor bird to Massachusetts. Since all are Division III schools that don't emphasize sports, why the cross-country flying?
Leading lower-division cupcake Lamar 45-3 at the start of the fourth quarter, Texas A&M shamelessly ran up the score, continuing to launch passes and going for it on fourth down with a 59-3 lead. Reaching first down with a 66-3 lead and 3:40 remaining, Texas A&M didn't kneel, rather kept calling plays to push the final to 73-3. Coach Kevin Sumlin must feel very proud of his ability to run up the score on a lower-division team that trails by 63 points! Very proud, indeed. This systematic display of bad sportsmanship ought to embarrass Aggie alums and boosters. Bear in mind TMQ's Law of Poor Sportsmanship: When a football team wins by more than 50 points the victor, not the vanquished, should be embarrassed.
The Football Gods Chortled: Wes Welker was issued $14,000 too much in winnings at Churchill Downs and refused to return the money, though he did hand some $100 bills to passing strangers. Now suspended for drug use, he strongly denies taking drugs, and there's suspicion someone spiked his drink at the race. Wouldn't return money that was not his, misfortune befalls -- can these facts be unrelated?
Don't Get Up For A Beer!: In the fourth quarter of Cincinnati at Baltimore, the Ravens completed an 80-yard touchdown pass. Two snaps later, the Bengals completed a 77-yard touchdown pass. Stretching back to late in the 2012 season, Baltimore has followed a 1-4 run with a 4-0 postseason run and a Super Bowl win, then an 8-9 run.
Burying The Lead: Buried in this New York Times story about the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal is the news that only 15 senior executives in the entire federal government failed to receive a "fully successful" or "outstanding" rating in their most recent annual evaluations. The federal government has 7,910 senior executives. So 99.8 percent of federal government's top managers are rated "fully successful" or "outstanding." How could anything ever go wrong?
Maybe Jerry Jones Should Fire Jimmy Johnson Again: Tony Romo threw three interceptions in the first half against Santa Clara -- he was in midseason form! Niners ahead 21-3 with 3:50 remaining 'til intermission, Dallas on its 12, some dim-bulb in the Cowboys organization called a play-fake with max protect for a single deep receiver. Why would any team fall for a play-fake in this situation? Santa Clara certainly didn't fall for it. Dez Bryant on the deep post was double-covered. Romo forced the ball to him anyway, interception, the Niners would lead 28-3 at the half.
Boys trailing 28-10 at the end of the third quarter, some dim-bulb in the Dallas organization had the team kick away rather than onside kick. (Indianapolis onside-kicked in a nearly identical situation at Denver, and it helped the Colts come within shouting distance of a dramatic comeback.) Still down by 18 points with 10 minutes remaining, the Cowboys punted on fourth-and-short. These decisions can't be being made by a Princeton graduate, can they?
TMQ Item Written By Reader: NFL players are ripping the token fine given to billionaire Colts owner Jim Irsay. Reader Brian Borger of Los Angeles writes, "Irsay just got fined $500,000 by the NFL for his DWI. Per the ESPN.com story, Roger Goodell said, 'I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players.' Per Wikipedia, Irsay is worth $1.6 billion. Divide $500,000 into $1.6 billion. Irsay was fined .031 percent of his net worth.
"Compare that with Josh Gordon's one-year suspension for marijuana use. Gordon will lose $1.4 million in game checks, about three times what the Colts' owner was fined. Gordon's net worth is unknown but since he is 23 years old and just started working as a car salesman, most likely his net worth is roughly the $5.3 million pretax value of his Browns' contract. Divide $1.4 million into $5.3 million, and Gordon was fined 26 percent of his net worth. Viewed this way, his fine his 800 times the fine levied on Irsay. Plus Gordon has only a few years in which to earn a pro athlete's living, while Irsay can spend his entire life managing the fortune he inherited. In sum, it does not appear that in the NFL, management is held to a higher standard."
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!: Game tied with 20 seconds remaining in what the Browns seemed to assume was regulation, the Steelers faced first down on the Cleveland 44, out of timeouts. Cleveland needs to hold Pittsburgh to a short gain -- the Condiment Coliseum is the hardest place in the NFL to kick a long field goal. Instead, it's a blitz! Twenty-yard completion down the middle, Ben Roethlisberger spikes the ball and soon Roethlisberger is 10-0 at home versus the Browns.
Earlier, facing fourth-and-10 on their own 20, the Steelers ran a fake punt. Cleveland inexplicably lined up no one across from the left gunner. The slot man called an "automatic" -- an audible that's automatic if the defense does a particular thing -- and lobbed the ball to the gunner, who made the first down. Pittsburgh did not score on the possession, but the play set an upbeat tone.
Young Guns Update: Of the young-gun quarterbacks from the 2012 draft, Russell Wilson is 29-9, Andrew Luck is 23-13, Ryan Tannehill is 16-17 and Robert Griffin III is 12-18. Griffin is on a 3-11 streak. Football is a team sport, and the R*dsk*ns are a second-echelon team. But at some point Griffin's knee won't be an excuse anymore.
The 500 Club: Hosting UDub, Eastern Washington gained 573 yards and lost. At West Point, the University at Buffalo (which should style itself UATB) gained 549 yards and lost. Cortland gained 566 yards at Buffalo State and lost. Visiting Tulsa, Tulane gained 516 yards and lost. Hosting Rutgers, Washington State gained 538 yards and lost.
The 600 Club: Hosting Reinhardt, Lindsey Wilson gained 605 yards and lost. Well, of course an entire football team defeated one woman! Located in Columbia, Kentucky, Lindsey Wilson College has more students from Sweden than from New York state. Reader Jonathan Wells of Arlington, Texas, reports that in Lone Star prep action, Lovejoy gained 612 yards against Mansfield Legacy and lost by 19 points.
TMQ's Futility Clubs: Once again this season, I will take nominees for the 500 Club, 600 Club, 700 Club and the ultra-exclusive, velvet-rope 800 Club -- clubs that show that in modern, quick-snap, scoreboard-spinning football, flying down the field doesn't necessarily carry the day.
Admission to the 500 Club requires a team to gain 500 yards or score 50 points and lose. The 600 Club requires 600 yards gained or 60 points scored in a loss. Admission to the 700 Club requires either 700 yards or 70 points plus a loss. To get past the doorman and the bouncer at the 800 Club, your team must gain 800 yards or score 80 points and still lose. Impossible? Last season, Bishop Kenny High of Florida gained 834 yards versus Clay High and lost.
Tweet your nominee to me @EasterbrookG with a link to an article spelling out what happened. If your nominee is for yards gained, you must supply a link to a box score with offensive yards specified.
The Football Gods Chortled: Kansas City has nose-dived in a major way. Apparent season-ending injuries to two starters versus Tennessee are the Chiefs' latest problems, but TMQ traces it back to the end of Week 3 of the 2013 season. Chiefs' players dumped Gatorade on the head of coach Andy Reid -- for a routine September victory. This tempted the football gods.
Obscure College Scores: Texas A&M-Commerce 98, East Texas Baptist 20. Texas A&M-Commerce gained 986 yards, just missing the thousand mark, versus mismatched East Texas Baptist, which threw for 369 yards and still lost by 78 points. Why was East Texas Baptist, a Division III school with 1,100 students, playing Division II Texas A&M-Commerce, which has nearly 7,000 students? Located in Marshall, Texas, East Texas Baptist says, "The Intercollegiate Athletics Program emphasizes academics as the highest priority in the life of student-athletes." Don't let the NCAA find out, it will expel you!
Tusculum College, a Division II school, held College of Faith to minus-100 yards in a 71-0 victory. College of Faith is an online "school" that is not recognized by the College Board, doesn't belong to either the NCAA or NAIA and, as far I as could determine, is not accredited. Why did a stunt like this "game" even occur? Alums of Tusculum College -- and good-sportsmanship supporters everywhere -- should feel embarrassed.
Single-Worst Plays Of The Season -- So Far: It's only Week 1 and already there is a finalist. Green Bay offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, a 2011 first-round draft selection, has struggled in the pros -- he's never started a game, despite Green Bay's offensive line woes. Sherrod entered the season opener at Seattle to replace an injured Packer. Not long after coming in, he gave up a sack on fourth-and-5; on the Packers' next snap, he gave up a safety. Ye gods. In Sherrod's defense, everyone knows he has been struggling, so why didn't the Packers alter their protection to slide him some help?
Next Week: Godzilla makes the Cowboys' practice squad, is told he needs to get bigger.