Many Thanksgiving Day games have been woofers. Not 2014. This year, Thanksgiving offers playoffs in November.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys pairs 8-3 teams and will decide first place in the NFC East. Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers pairs 7-4 teams and, considering this season's wild-card logjam, is close to an elimination contest for both clubs.
Philadelphia-Dallas should be an entertaining shootout, matching the league's fourth- and sixth-ranked offenses. The winner will hold first place in the division. The loser will be 8-4, normally a solid record entering the final month. But the NFL's goofy playoff format rewards mediocrity while penalizing success. A shoddy team from the NFC South will host a postseason contest while several winning NFC teams do not receive a postseason invitation. The Boys-Birds losers get an inside track to a wild card. But the Boys-Birds losers need to go 3-1 down the stretch, since a 10-win season is not likely to cut it in the NFC this season.
Tension is higher in the Seattle-Santa Clara contest. These teams met for last season's NFC title, a down-to-the-wire event many considered the real Super Bowl of last season. Now both are staring at the taillights of the Arizona Cardinals. The loser of this Bluish Men Group-Squared Sevens game will have five defeats and likely need to win out for a wild-card berth. Athletes boast about winning out, but it's not a good master plan, especially since Seattle and Santa Clara face each other again in two weeks.
The Niners are on a 5-0 home streak versus Seattle; the Seahawks are on a 3-0 home streak versus the Niners. This lends a sense of mutually assured destruction to the teams' upcoming meetings. To be confident of a playoff berth, either the Seahawks must win both games or the Niners must win both. Since both teams know this, the late contest on Thanksgiving is likely to be a Darwinian struggle.
Overall, it's a feast-like lineup. Football sometimes intrudes on the national day of Thanksgiving by drowning out family conversation and shifting the focus away from thankfulness. At least this year the games are worth paying attention to.
Will the home field equate to Detroit, Dallas and Santa Clara wins? Not necessarily. Since the three-game Thanksgiving format was implemented in 2006, turkey-day hosts are 13-11. That 54 percent home victor performance on Thanksgiving is below the typical winning share for home teams. For instance, in the 2013 regular season, home teams won 60 percent of the time. And it's well below home-team outcomes for all Thursday games that are not held on Thanksgiving. Since 2006, non-turkey Thursday home teams are 49-27, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, a 65 percent winning share.
That Detroit always gets a Thanksgiving host date, and the Lions have been awful in many recent seasons, dragging down the turkey-day home team performance statistics. Nevertheless, don't assume being at home after a short week means the Lions, Cowboys and Niners will kick the stuffing out of ... Sorry, I meant to avoid Thanksgiving puns.
In other football news, if the playoffs began today, 4-7 Atlanta would host a playoff game while five 7-4 teams -- the Browns, Steelers, 49ers, Lions and Ravens -- would not reach the postseason at all. Why is a seeded playoff format a forbidden thought to the NFL?
Stats Of The Week No. 1: The Patriots are on a 15-0 streak at home.
Stats Of The Week No. 2: The Seahawks are on a 22-2 streak at home.
Stats Of The Week No. 3: Indianapolis is on an 11-0 streak in its division.
Stats Of The Week No. 4: The Patriots are on a 14-0 streak versus the NFC North.
Stats Of The Week No. 5: The AFC North is 28-15-1; the NFC South is 13-30-1
Stats Of The Week No. 6: Of the young-gun quarterbacks from the 2012 draft, including the postseason, Russell Wilson is 35-13, Andrew Luck is 30-16, Ryan Tannehill is 21-22 and Robert Griffin III is 13-21.
Stats Of The Week No. 7: On a single play, his 90-yard touchdown run, Latavius Murray of Oakland gained more rushing yards than any Raider had gained in an entire game this season.
Stats of the Week No. 8: Atlanta is 4-0 versus the NFC South, 0-7 versus all other divisions.
Stats Of The Week No. 9: Tony Romo and Eli Manning just faced off. In November, Romo is 26-5, Manning is 16-24. In the playoffs, Romo is 1-3, Manning is 8-3.
Stats Of The Week No. 10: Monday night's loss ended New Orleans' streak of 12 consecutive home prime-time victories.
Sweet Play Of The Week: Scoring to pull within 28-23 at the start of the fourth quarter against Miami, the Broncos went for two. Emanuel Sanders split wide right, then came in motion back toward the formation. At the snap, Peyton Manning faked a handoff to the tailback going left; Sanders spun around and ran back out into the right flat, where he'd just been, taking the pass for an uncovered deuce. The additional point helped trigger Denver's 22-8 fourth quarter. The Broncos seem to have a playbook just for deuce tries: under Peyton Manning, Denver is 4-of-5 when going for two.
Sour Tactics Of The Week: Cleveland leading 23-21, Atlanta reached third-and-2 the Browns' 35 with 55 seconds remaining and called time. A moment later a field goal put the home team ahead 24-23, but stopping the clock gave Cleveland time to reply. Cleveland with first-and-10 on its 31 with 32 ticks showing, surely Atlanta won't big blitz! Big blitz, 24-yard gain down the middle. On the next snap, surely Atlanta won't big blitz! Big blitz, 15-yard gain down the middle. Two straight big blitzes have backfired, surely Atlanta -- big blitz, 11-yard gain down the middle and the winning field goal two snaps later.
Touts lauded the return of Josh Gordon, with 120 receiving yards. Two of Brian Hoyer's three interceptions were errant throws targeted to Gordon. in both instances he might have broken up the pass but instead just watched passively as the ball was picked off. When a pass is errant, a wide receiver should turn into a defensive back. Gordon seems to consider this beneath him.
Sweet 'N' Sour Confrontation: Last month, TMQ noted of a Patriots touchdown at Buffalo, "Presnap, the Buffalo secondary was confused -- players were pointing at each other and shouting. A safety turned his back to the opponents in order to argue with a teammate. Word to the wise: Do not turn your back on Tom Brady. He immediately signaled for the snap and threw an easy touchdown pass to the man the safety should have guarded."
Now it's Detroit leading 3-0 at New England. The Flying Elvii face third-and-goal on the Lions 4. Presnap, Detroit is confused -- linebacker Josh Bynes is gesturing madly to the secondary. Just call time out! Continuing to gesticulate, Bynes turned his back on the opponents. Word to the wise: Do not turn your back on Tom Brady. He immediately signaled for the snap and threw an easy touchdown pass to tight end Tim Wright, the man Bynes should have guarded. Sweet.
The next time New England reached the Lions' 4, Wright split wide. Across from him was safety Glover Quin, who, being a safety, won't get any safety help; at any rate there wasn't any other defensive back on that side of the field who didn't have a man to guard. At the snap, Wright did a quick down-and-out. Quin stood like a piece of topiary, covering no one, as Wright scored again. Detroit entered with the league's No. 1 defense, and twice in the first half allowed a New England receiver to reach the end zone not covered by anyone at all. Sour. To prove it was no fluke, before New England's field goal to make the count 24-6 at intermission, twice the Detroit defense allowed Rob Gronkowski to run down the seam not covered by anyone for big completions.
Watching the New England staff out-coach the Detroit staff was like watching Itzhak Perlman teach a novice how to hold a violin. Last week at Indianapolis, the Patriots huddled up and mostly ran a heavy package of two tight ends and a fullback. That's the film Detroit looked at during the week. Sunday, New England used a no-huddle hurry-up with four or five wide. The game was a 1 p.m. start in late November, which means declining winter sun may be in a receiver's eyes. From about Veterans Day on, the coach who leaves nothing to chance sends someone to the field the day before the game to chart the sun, as perceived from the field, as it declines during the hours of the contest. Sunday, in the second quarter, a Detroit receiver was sent deep where, looking back, the sun was blinding: drop. New England passes went to shaded areas of the field.
New England leading 27-9 early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots completed a pass that seemed to make the down-and-distance fourth-and-1 on the New England 29. Actually the ball was trapped. A challenge would result in an incompletion. Eyeing the Detroit sideline, Bill Belichick kept his offense on the field. This caused Lions coach Jim Caldwell to throw the challenge flag. As soon as the flag flew, Belichick sent out the punt unit. New England would have punted all along; Belichick bluffed Caldwell into wasting a challenge. To top it off, trailing by 18 points in the fourth quarter but possessing the league's best defense, Caldwell should have wanted New England to go for it. That would have created a chance for Detroit to get back into the game. "Mr. Perlman? Your students are here."
Doomsday No. 1 -- Dystopia Movies: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1" just opened, the most recent in the doomsday genre that has assimilated Hollywood, television and novel writing. The "Hunger Games" books and movies denounce use of violence for mass entertainment. And hey, come be entertained by the glorified violence! Script doctors in the deep underground production facility of Tuesday Morning Quarterback Enterprises have in development a chilling trilogy about a dystopian future in which technology is highly advanced and all teenagers are really good-looking, but entertainment consists entirely of doomsday shows.
Merely the list of recent dystopia/doomsday vehicles is daunting. On the big screen: three "Hunger Games" films with at least one more coming (nuclear war preserves technology but destroys all knowledge of growing food). "Oblivion" (aliens wipe out most of humanity because they want water, despite it being among the most common substances in the cosmos). "The Book of Eli" (nuclear war destroys everything except Denzel Washington's special shotgun that never runs out of ammunition). "The Road" (generic global calamity causes protagonist to speak in monosyllables)."The Host" (aliens take over the bodies of really good-looking teenagers). "I Am Legend" and "World War Z" (global zombie apocalypse spares only movie stars). "Contagion" (global virus destroys all logical connections between events). "The Maze Runner" (unspecified global calamity causes sinister forces to conduct unexplained experiments). "Planet of the Apes" series (eight so far; a future human society where people are so stupid they deserve to be replaced by apes). "Divergent" (future teenagers are trapped within a "Hunger Games" knockoff). "Battle: Los Angeles" (aliens attack Earth for water). "Melancholia" (rogue planet collides with Kristen Dunst's career, I mean, with Earth). "4:44 Last Day on Earth" (approaching cosmic radiation causes everyone to get weepy). "The Happening" (intelligent plants cause people to commit mass suicide). "Elysium" (future society devastated by global warming can build space stations but not windmills). "Dredd" ("Judge Dredd" remake in which something fries the entire surface of the Earth except one giant city that inexplicably is fine). "Monsters" (NASA inexplicably has a probe bring a sample of alien DNA to Earth). "The Giver" (everyone's memories are erased). The "Matrix" franchise (future super-computers enslave people to generate body heat instead of, say, just using a nuclear reactor). "Interstellar" (future society can build super-advanced space ships but not grow wheat). "Under the Skin" (good-looking space alien woman skins people alive for amusement). "Edge of Tomorrow" (space alien invasion army fails to notice that its time-travel powers can be used against it). "Children of Men" (everyone is suddenly infertile). "The Day After Tomorrow" (making the world warmer makes it colder). "2012" (harmonic convergence destroys everything built from pixels). "28 Days Later" and "28 Weeks Later" (zombie apocalypse). "12 Monkeys" (virus apocalypse). "Skyline" (aliens attack Los Angeles, apparently to seize movie scripts).
That's just recent major motion pictures. Surely I am missing many, and am not including older flicks such as "When Worlds Collide," "Waterworld," "Mad Max" and its sequels, "The Postman" and the 1974 cult classic "Zardoz," in which Sean Connery, fresh off quitting the Bond franchise, walks around in a loincloth flexing his pecs for sex-crazed future women who use high tech to enslave the survivors of some kind of global wipeout.
Then there's "Snowpiercer." Marketed as a highbrow, philosophical doomsday film, "Snowpiercer" contains a stark warning to humanity: After the apocalypse, nothing will make sense. Some kind of environmental blunder triggered an instant ice age that killed all but a few thousand people. They endlessly ride around the planet aboard a huge train powered by a perpetual motion engine that requires no fuel. If the world was suddenly covered with ice, why were capital and resources devoted to building a train track rather than, say, protective structures? Future technology can devise a perpetual motion engine, yet everyone has forgotten about power plants that burn coal to generate heat. The economics make least sense. The deep philosophical part is that the poor live in the back of the train, the middle class in the middle and the 1 percent in luxury up front. If society collapsed, wouldn't the money held by the rich become worthless?
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: Trailing 17-0 at Philadelphia, Tennessee punted on fourth-and-1 from its 34. Trailing 27-17, the Flaming Thumbtacks took the field goal on fourth-and-goal from the Nesharim 2. Tennessee entered the contest 2-8, yet coach Ken Whisenhunt used hyper-conservative tactics as if holding a late lead in the Super Bowl. By playing it "safe," Tennessee went on to lose 43-24.
Trailing 7-3 in the second quarter at New England, Detroit faced fourth-and-goal on the Patriots 2, and took the field goal. New England entered the contest as the league's second highest-scoring team -- touchdowns, not field goals, defeat high-scoring teams. To prove it was no fluke, trailing 14-6 in the second quarter, Detroit punted on fourth-and-3 from the New England 39. By playing it "safe," Detroit went on to lose 34-9.
Pulling within 24-21 with 3:23 remaining versus Green Bay, Minnesota prepared to kick off following roughing the passer on a deuce. That meant the Vikings teed up on the 50-yard line. Onside! Onside! Worst-case for an onside from midfield just isn't that bad. Mike Zimmer had his charges kick away, and you have already guessed that Minnesota never touched the ball again. By playing if "safe," Zimmer ensured his Vikings would drop to 4-7, all but mathematically eliminated.
Dancers as Athletes: Soloist Misty Copeland of American Ballet Theater will perform the role of Odette in "Swan Lake" next spring at the Kennedy Center, across from Brooklyn Mack as Prince Siegfried -- first pairing of African American lead dancers in a major production of this classic. Ballet and modern dancers tend to be perceived as frilly, but many are, fundamentally, athletes who spend a lot of time in strength training and consume amazing amounts of calories. Copeland's endorsement ad for Under Armour emphasizes the athletic nature of dance. Some NBA and NFL players wouldn't last a day in a dancer's athletic regime.
Lower Standards for Athletes? Shut Your Mouth! Michael Kinsley's law of gaffes holds: A gaffe does not occur when a powerful person inadvertently says something wrong; a gaffe occurs when a powerful person inadvertently says something true. Thus this gaffe from University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel, reported by Jake New: Schlissel "was candid in his assessment of the admissions process for athletes. 'We admit students who aren't as qualified,' he said. 'And it's probably the kids that we admit that can't honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year.'"
The story further reports that Michigan "has been pressured by angry students, alumni, fans, and the board of regents" to get the football team dominant again. Schlissel's quixotic belief that academic integrity matters more than victory does not sit well with them. Now he's committed a terrible gaffe -- by stating what everyone would rather pretend not to know.
Doomsday No. 2 -- Primetime Dystopia: "The Walking Dead" and "Z Nation" (instant zombie apocalypse). "The Strain" (gradual zombie apocalypse). "The Last Ship" (instant virus apocalypse). "Revolution" (all electricity permanently fails but there's an inexhaustible supply of whisky). "The 100" (global nuclear war strands good-looking teens in space). "Defiance" (space aliens invade Earth and immediately forget all the technology that brought them here). "Falling Skies" (super-advanced aliens take 24 hours to kill 99 percent of humanity yet can't finish off a few ragtag survivalists). The "V" reboot (aliens invade Earth because -- the series was canceled before viewers found out). "The Leftovers" (huge numbers of people vanish for reasons unknown). "Terra Nova" (future society can build time machines but not control smog). "The Event" (alien planet is teleported into Earth orbit without having any effect on the moon or the oceans). "The Lottery" (everyone is suddenly infertile). "Jericho" (right-wing fanatics set off nuclear bombs in American cities to slaughter the liberals). "The After" (an Amazon TV series by "X-Files" creator Chris Carter). The media release for "The After" says the apocalyptic situation "defies explanation." You got that right!
Why Do Corners Look Into The Backfield? TMQ complains about corners looking into the backfield. Prep and college players may do this owing to lack of experience. Why do NFL players do it?
On T.Y. Hilton's 73-yard touchdown reception that led to his "cradle the baby" celebration, Jacksonville corner Dwayne Gratz was busy looking into the backfield as Hilton blew past. NFL corners know that future bonus offers will be heavily influenced by their interception numbers. Looking into the backfield is a way to generate interceptions -- the corner may be able to read the quarterback's eyes and jump a short out. If looking into the backfield generates an interception, the corner benefits; if it causes a long pass completion, too bad for the team.
"Rip Rip Rip The Chipmunk Off the Field": It's rivalry week in NCAA football, which brings to mind the greatest collegiate rivalry of them all. Of course I mean the Groundhog of Old Ivy College versus the Chipmunk of Northern State. That's the annual confrontation in the deeply silly musical "How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying." Here's a quickie version of Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette performing the Old Ivy fight song -- "rip rip rip the Chipmunk off the field" -- in the most recent Broadway revival. Here's the whole fight song scene from the 1967 movie version with Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee. Listen closely and you'll hear Vallee say this year Old Ivy College is sure to win because "the dirtiest player we've got" is healthy.
TMQ Right on a Distressingly Easy Prediction: Last month my Atlantic Monthly article on longevity trends noted that Social Security and Medicare have between $3.2 trillion and $8.3 trillion in unfunded liabilities, while state and local public pensions are at least $1 trillion in the red. What about company-run private pensions? Many are underfunded too, while "the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which on paper appears to insure them, is an accident looking for a place to happen."
Last week the accident happened. That sure didn't take long! The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation admitted in its annual report to $62 billion in unfunded liabilities and a 90 percent likelihood of insolvency in a decade. Despite the word "corporation," the PBGC is a government entity. Just like Social Security, Medicare and state and local government pensions, the PBGC is on course to demanding a mega-bailout that will bankrupt the millennial generation.
Nobody likes to think about this stuff. In the short term these problems can be ignored, and the American political system is good at ignoring problems. But the longer pension reforms are put off, the worse the bailouts will be.
The Netherlands has a secure pension system because each generation is required to pay for itself. In the United States, the retired expect to be subsidized by the young. Millennials, why aren't you rebelling against this?
Down Memory Lane: Here are memorable scores from Thanksgiving contests of the good old days:
1920: Elyria Athletics 0, Columbus Panhandles 0. There were six NFL games on Thanksgiving 1920, with five of the 12 teams representing Ohio.
1923: Milwaukee Badgers 16, Racine Legion 0. The full appellation of the later was the Horlick-Racine Legion, acknowledging sponsor William Horlick, who, with his brother James, invented malted milk. Later organizers spiffed up the name to the Racine Tornadoes.
1926: Pottsville Maroons 8, Providence Steam Roller 0. The Steam Roller is TMQ's all-time favorite team name.
1928: Frankford Yellow Jackets 2, Green Bay Packers 0. Trudging to a stadium on Thanksgiving to watch a football game in which the sole scoring play was a safety was better than trudging to a 0-0 outcome. Frankford is a neighborhood in Philadelphia, so the Yellow Jackets-Packers contest pitted two small areas.
1930: Staten Island Stapletons 7, New York Giants 6. Trying to improve their brand, the Stapletons, from a neighborhood on Staten Island, later shortened their name to the Stapes.
The Dangerous Safety Device: Years ago for the Washington Monthly I did a story about an OSHA mandate that backfired and caused a workplace fatality. The snarky headline was, "Safety device claims new victim." Now the scandal over exploding airbags makes that headline seem ominous. Lots is being said about the potential recall of many millions of vehicles. Unasked: Are airbags even a good idea?
Three-point seat belts are a fantastically good idea. Much of the steady decline in road deaths per mile traveled stems from seat belt use, now at 87 percent. Always buckle up -- you're a fool not to. The urban myth of being "thrown clear of the crash" is nonsense: being thrown from a crash makes a person 25 times more likely to die. (Your body is moving 50 miles an hour, passes through a window and then impacts concrete.) "I don't need to buckle up because this is a short trip" is also urban myth. Most traffic fatalities occur within 25 miles of home. And please don't say "no one can tell me what to do inside my car." That's true if you drive exclusively on private property. State and federal law both are crystal clear that, on public roads, drivers must obey traffic and safety rules.
Another urban myth is that you don't need to buckle up because the car has airbags. Airbags are close to useless by themselves: they exist to supplement belts. Unbuckled, your body will be moving relative to the seat when hit by the expanding bag, negating its value. If believing airbags will save you stops you from buckling the belt, then the airbag has backfired, at considerable risk and expense.
Steven D. Levitt, later to co-author the bestseller "Freakonomics," first drew the attention of academia with this 2001 study, co-authored with Jack Porter, showing, "Wearing a seat belt reduces the likelihood of death by roughly 60 percent and air bags reduce the probability of death by approximately 16 percent in direct-frontal impacts and 9 percent in partial-frontal impacts." Levitt and Price established that seat belts were much more effective than generally assumed, while airbags were overrated.
Airbag technology has improved since 2001, but the basic equation hasn't changed. This 2009 study found three-point seat belts substantially more effective than airbags; adding airbags to buckled three-point belts improved safety only by a small margin. Meanwhile seat belt technology also has improved with the quiet addition of "pretensioners" to new cars. These devices tighten the shoulder harness when an accelerometer detects rapid reduction in speed. Tight belts reduce impact better than loose ones. Pretensioners, developed for helicopters and inexpensive, are on most new cars and SUVs built in the past six years -- a big safety advance many drivers have never heard of. Obviously they only work if the belt is buckled.
Why are auto regulators still in love with airbags? These seem to be three reasons, though none of them are convincing:
First is that some people refuse to buckle up. Mandating ignition interlocks -- so vehicles won't start until belts are buckled -- is seen as a scandalous idea. Dangerous, expensive airbags are better?
Second is that airbags are seen as a triumph of regulation, and the intellectual left won't give an inch on regulation. Seat belts, and then shoulder harnesses, were the true triumph for regulation -- they've saved large numbers of lives in a cost-effective manner.
Third is that government programs never end. A generation ago there was a huge lobbying fight regarding airbags, resulting in new government programs and a new constituency of bag manufacturers. At this point airbags may have outlived their usefulness, if not actually become a hazard. But government programs never end.
The Ivy League Should Pay Its Own Way: Yale at Harvard, tied with a minute remaining, the host school -- pronounced har-VUUD -- had first-and-10 on the Yale 35. To that point in the contest, Crimson star Andrew Fischer compiled 193 of his team's 404 yards from scrimmage. So maybe, just maybe, the play will be to Fischer. Yale had him single-covered going deep, no safety help. To make matters worse, Bulldogs corner Dale Harris was looking into the backfield trying to guess the play, rather than simply covering his man. Long touchdown pass to Fischer, har-VUUD takes its eighth straight in this storied series. Best taunting sign at the stadium: Yale cites Wikipedia.
The first golden era of Ivy League sports was the early 20th century, when football powers were private colleges: Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Chicago ruled the gridiron in the manner that Florida State and Alabama now do. With the dramatic expansion of public universities that followed World War II, football factories came into being and used numbers -- large student bodies, huge fan and boosters bases -- to take over college football. A few big private universities, such as Notre Dame, remained powers. The smaller private colleges of the Ivy League, NESCAC (the league including such schools as Amherst, Bowdoin and Williams) and Patriot League (including such schools as Bucknell, Colgate and Holy Cross) faded in football terms.
Now Ivy League sports is enjoying a renaissance as a result of several member colleges deciding over the past decade to cover the full cost of tuition, room and board for students from families at or below the median income. The Ivy League does not allow athletic scholarships, and thereby is not bound by NCAA scholarship or recruiting rules. The effect of offering full-ride regular financial aid to athletes, while being exempt from NCAA strictures, is that the Crimson can recruit in ways the Crimson Tide can only dream of.
Compared to football factory universities that offer only sketchy graduation rates, an Ivy League full ride for a great education with no NCAA meddling -- including that you don't lose the aid if you quit sports, or must quit owing to injury -- can make Harvard, Yale and a few others a really attractive option to the prep football player with a good GPA. In on-field terms, it's working: quality of play in Ivy League football is dramatically higher than a generation ago. This year, Yale defeated Army. The Wall Street Journal noted the Harvard offensive line averages 6-foot-5, 287 pounds -- FBS size, and fine athletes. Either school in the Harvard-Yale matchup would be competitive with many mid-majors.
Creating a situation in which athletically talented young men with good grades but modest family incomes can choose the Ivy League is a huge plus for education. Like the NESCAC, the Ivy League grants athletic admission -- waivers that allow incoming freshmen recruited by a sports coach to have lower GPAs and board scores than accepted applicants overall. High school athletes, boy and girl, should bear in mind there are two possible benefits from prep sports: an NCAA scholarship, or the "ath admit" to a college you wouldn't otherwise qualify for. The latter might do more for your adult life than the former. Ivy and NESCAC admissions-office waiver standards for athletes usually work out to an ACT composite of at least 28. That's strong -- a 28 means prepared for college -- but below the overall admission norm Ivy and NESCAC institutions.
But there's a catch: Taxpayers are subsidizing the Ivy League sports resurgence, via deductibility of donations. In the most recent reporting year, Harvard spent $1.1 million recruiting for sports, Yale spent $910,000 on sports recruiting. These are outrageous amounts for smallish programs. Those who donate to Harvard football can use this handy web form -- note the drop-down bar suggests a gift of $10,000 -- and it's all deductible. Assuming, as is likely, that most donors to Ivy League sports are top-bracket, taxpayers cover approximately one-third of the gift.
TMQ contends that donations to university and college athletic departments should not be tax-deductible, since unlike education, athletics makes no larger contribution to society. No one likes taxes. But when the rich get deductions for donations, average people must be taxed or government debt must rise. Harvard has $36.4 billion endowment, more than double the GDP of Iceland. Why should athletic donations to Harvard, or to any university or college, be supported by average taxpayers?
Authentic Games Standings: Last week Kansas City rose to second place, and immediately lost to winless Oakland. But since the Authentic Games Index doesn't recognize the Long Johns, this defeat does not alter the Chiefs' standing.
Arizona entered the weekend first in Authentic Games and got pasted by the Seahawks. The Cardinals generated seven sacks mostly by using a conventional four-man rush; the defending champions had to blitz to bring pressure. In January, that equation should favor Arizona. Though Arizona is tied with New England for the league's best record, the Cardinals have been flushed (cardinals flushed, get it, har har!) in both their losses. Another worrisome sign is that Arizona is second-last in rushing offense. Since the NFL is a passing league, this is not necessarily doom. The 2011 Giants won the Super Bowl after finishing last in rushing, the 2010 Packers won the Super Bowl after finishing 24th in rushing. But having trouble running the ball can't be good.
Arizona clock management at the end of the first half at Seattle was perplexing. Trailing 9-0, the Cardinals reached third-and-goal on the Seattle 5 with 55 seconds remaining, holding a timeout. Bruce Arians watched as the clock ticked down to 19 seconds, then called the timeout. Huh? That meant Arizona was sure to attempt a pass into the end zone, as it did, incompletion -- the odd use of clock assured the Bluish Men Group they didn't have to defend a rush. This sequence was puzzling, and a big factor in the Cardinals loss.
I will leave St. Louis in the Authentic Games index for one more week. Les Mouflons are 4-7, but having defeated both the most recent Super Bowl entrants, hold a card no other team holds. At least Rams faithful can say their charges are hugely superior to the Falcons. Atlanta also is 4-7, but all its victories are within the crummy NFC South, while St. Louis has beaten Denver and Seattle.
OK, So It Was a Little Snow: This month Jane Byrne, first female mayor of Chicago, passed away at age 81. In 1979 your columnist, then a Windy City resident, knocked on doors for Byrne in exchange for my alderman fixing a speeding ticket for me. Hey, it was Chicago! The Blizzard of 1979 pretty much shut down Chicago for about two weeks and had lingering impacts for a month. Snow removal efforts were terrible despite lavish federal emergency aid; much of the CTA failed; the city's political machine was discredited, opening the door to Byrne. Three monster blizzards have hit Chicago in the postwar period, and all three been poorly handled. Yet Chicago is not widely viewed as a blizzard city.
Then there's Buffalo. The hard-to-believe seven-foot snowfall in parts of the Buffalo area (most totals are much lower, "lake effect" snow can vary significantly over short distances) is perhaps best appreciated in this photo, unless you prefer the drone perspective. Most Buffalo area public schools reopened today, one week after the blizzard. Chicago needed two weeks for basic recovery (schools open, plowing of side streets) from less than two feet of snow, Buffalo recovered faster from more than double the snowfall. Having lived in both Buffalo and Chicago, I can attest that Buffalo handles snow better, and endures less disruption of daily life from snow, than Chicago.
Yet Buffalo is viewed as a blizzard capital while Chicago is viewed as merely windy. If snowstorms ruin your day, you'd be better off in Buffalo than in Chicago -- since in Buffalo, snow rapidly is plowed and shoveled.
The Football Gods Will Smile Upon Him: On the final first half snap of Cleveland versus Atlanta, the Browns attempted a 60-yard field goal. Devin Hester was back to return a missed long field goal, which happened; got most of the way down the field and had only the holder to beat for a touchdown with time expired; Browns offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, who weighs 305 pounds, hustled like crazy to catch Hester from behind.
The Football Gods May Not Smile Upon Him: At Chicago, Mike Evans ran a nice stutter-go/swim to beat Kyle Fuller for a touchdown reception, then drew a flag for taunting. One doesn't thump one's chest when one's team is 2-8! Needless to say, City of Tampa now is 2-9. Going into the 2014 draft, touts thought Evans possessed the same rare mix of speed, size and hands as Randy Moss -- but also possessed Moss-like meltdown potential. Silly flags don't help this perception.
As Han Solo Said, 'You Call That Easy?': Rex Ryan tempted the football gods by opining that playing the Bills in Detroit, not Buffalo, would make the game "easier." The Jets lost by 35 points. In two meetings this year, the low-voltage Bills scored 81 points against the boastful Ryan's charges, while intercepting Michael Vick and Geno Smith five times and sacking them 11 times.
Last week, TMQ complained of timid play calling by Buffalo coach Doug Marrone on fourth-and-short. In the second quarter, Bills facing fourth-and-short on the Jersey/B 45, Marrone went for it, and the try failed. The failed fourth-and-short was Buffalo's biggest down of the game! This column contends that sometimes it's better to try and fail -- this communicates to players that their coach is challenging them to win -- than to launch a timid punt. After the failed fourth-and-short, the Bills outscored the Jets 31-0.
Lions Are Given No Escape Route From Tourists: Chicago may not handle snow well, but its Lincoln Park Zoo certainly knows how to deal with emergencies. Check the escape plan for the lion house, which advises patrons to run away from the lions and tigers, not toward them.
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. Sunday, Hell's Sports Bar was Florida, where most of the state saw the woofer Buccaneers at Bears contest but did not see the day's two playoff-quality pairings, Detroit at New England and Arizona at Seattle.
Worst Crowd Reaction: Since the juncture at which the West Virginia University home crowd began to boo its own team when ahead in the fourth quarter versus then-seventh ranked TCU, the Mountaineers have been outscored 36-69 and dropped three straight. Hey, West Virginia crowd. Next time your college is ahead in the fourth quarter at home versus a highly ranked opponent, don't boo your own team, OK?
Manly Man Plays of the Week: Game tied 7-7, Santa Clara, hosting the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons, faced fourth-and-2 at midfield with 11 seconds remaining, holding a time out. The "safe" thing to do is to punt. Harbaugh/West called for a deep pass, complete, Niners field goal on the final snap of the half. Many football commentators would call this a huge gamble. Yet had the fourth-and-2 try failed, the low-voltage Washington offense would have had maybe five seconds (the deep pass ensures some clock burned) in which to try to gain 20 yards against the stout Santa Clara defense. The decision was not a huge gamble, it was playing the percentages.
Then Niners trailing 13-10 at 5:38 in the fourth quarter and facing fourth-and-1 on their 34, Santa Clara went for the first down, converting. This wasn't a huge gamble, it was playing the percentages. Santa Clara continued on to victory.
Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, both once viewed as unstoppable, now have faced off twice. RG III has been horrible both times: 118 yards passing and sacked six times in 2013, 106 yards passing and five sacks this time. The difference in 2014 was that Kaepernick didn't do much either, the Niners struggling to score 17 points at home versus a second-echelon club. Those days of the zone-read quarterback being unstoppable seem so, so long ago.
Doomsday No. 3 -- Literary Dystopia: Recent apocalypse novels with literary pretensions have included "California" (unexplained calamity makes the wealthy in gated communities suffer anxiety). "On Such a Full Sea" (unexplained calamity for some reason spares Baltimore). "Wool" ("THX-1138" comes to Internet serialization). "Oryx and Crake" (the super-rich become so rich they decide to slaughter everyone else). "The Possibility of an Island" (a major bestseller in France, it appealed to the French worldview by combining a global warming apocalypse triggered by the United States, tedious ruminations on nihilism and hard-core S&M). Many recent literary doomsday novels, such as "The Road," simply never explain what obliterated society. This gets around the complication that complete, rapid collapse of everything is extraordinarily unlikely.
There's a history to dystopia novels of course, and not just the great book "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Published in 1949, it describes two-way interactive flat-screen TVs. In "The Time Machine," published in 1895, the unnamed inventor wants to reach the future because he assumes it will be a socialist paradise -- instead he finds a dying Earth where everyone is miserable. Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," published in 1818, is about how science will destroy humanism.
Beginning to arrive at bookstores are more dystopias with literary pretensions. "Station Eleven," "The Dead Lands" and "Find Me" by Laura van den Berg: in all three novels an unstoppable virus kills most of humanity, though no such runaway disease has ever been observed in natural history. In "The Book of Strange New Things," a missionary on a distant planet contemplates radio messages that Earth is dying from climate change. In "J," a future society tries to suppress memory of some global calamity. In "The Bone Clocks" by the hot writer David Mitchell, society collapses from climate change in 2043. This moves the goal posts from Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas," in which civilization lasted till the 25th century before collapsing from climate change.
Doomsday movies play in suburban shopping malls to amuse soccer moms; dystopia TV shows appear on prime time spliced with ads for beer and cheeseburgers; doomsday novels ask the reader to spend many hours contemplating complete destruction of everything. Doomsday and computer-generated special effects obviously fit together nicely, while dystopias create the sort of simplistic good-versus-evil contrasts beloved by scriptwriters. If a future society is run by cackling villains, that's a lot easier to write than a future run by the conscientious.
Consider what was popular a few generations ago -- bright, sunny Peter Pan-style novels, optimistic movies with happy endings. At the time, society was terrible: poverty, pollution, world wars, prejudice. Today there's less racial and sexual discrimination than ever before, living standards are way up, lifespans keep getting longer, most diseases are in decline, pollution is way down, and the odds of dying by war or criminal violence are the lowest in human history. (See Steven Pinker's terrific book "The Better Angels of Our Nature" for details on the latter.) And what is our diversion? Doomsday. When things were bad, people wanted entertainment about things being good. Now that things are good, people want entertainment about things being bad.
The Football Gods Chortled: Three days after being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, breakout Patriots star Jonas Gray was benched, active for the Detroit game but never sent in.
Raiders Mathematically Alive to Finish 6-10: Kansas City had just defeated the defending champion Seahawks and was looking past the 0-10 Raiders to this Sunday's confrontation with Denver. Still there was plenty of warning that mega-underdog Oakland was playing well, and the favorites never woke up.
Latavius Murray ran 90 yards for a touchdown behind six offensive linemen and a guard pulling away from the point of attack as misdirection. The Kansas City defense seemed shocked and was totally out of position. Yet on the previous occasion that Murray touched the ball, also a touchdown run, Oakland put six offensive linemen on the field. After taking a 20-17 fourth quarter lead, Kansas City's defense allowed Oakland to stage a 17-play, 7:21 drive for the winning points. Raiders down to third-and-9 just ahead of the two-minute warning, what Kansas City needed was the clang of an incompletion. Surely, Chiefs coaches won't call a safety blitz! They did, first down.
Because this was a division game, losing to Oakland hurts Kansas City more than defeating Seattle helped the Chiefs. Attention, Kansas City wide receivers, it's almost December and none of you has a touchdown reception. Andy Reid's drip-drip-drip ultra-short passing attack doesn't help. As the double whistle sounded, @caseyrichey tweeted, "Tonight all living members of the 2008 Detroit Lions do whatever the opposite of drinking champagne is."
Who Looks This Stuff Up? "The Raiders became just the third team since the merger to beat a first-place team for their first win after losing at least 10 games to start the season." -- Associated Press.
Wasteful Spending on Staff Watch: TMQ pounds the table about taxpayer-funded security details whose real role is to make politicians seem more important, while allowing them to speed through traffic and cut to the heads of lines. What about taxpayer-funded staffs whose real purpose is to make insiders seem more important?
In New York City, the chief of staff to the mayor's wife just took a leave of absence owing to a scandal. Why does the mayor's wife have a $170,000-per-year chief of staff -- or for that matter, a staff? No one voted for her; no New York City mayoral spouse holds public office. So why should taxpayers subsidize people to flutter around a mayor's wife or husband, making her or him seem more important?
Adventures in Officiating: After Janoris Jenkins went 99 yards for a touchdown -- the longest touchdown on an interception return of the season so far -- he was flagged for "choreographed celebration." He just did a little dance! Nobody complains when Misty Copeland does a little dance. Yes, zebras must enforce the rules. But TMQ hates the celebration rule, and so do most football enthusiasts. The whole point of NFL games is entertainment.
Miami leading 21-17 at Denver facing third-and-10 at the Broncos 12, Ryan Tannehill dropped to pass. He was hit as he threw; the ball bounced off an offensive lineman and was intercepted by Von Miller, who tried to advance but fumbled, Miami recovering on the Broncos' 25. Expecting the result to be fourth and very long on the Denver 25, the home crowd booed vociferously when a call of defensive holding before the pass was thrown made it first down for Miami. But it would have been first down Miami in any case -- since the interception followed by a fumble created a new possession for the Dolphins.
The 500 Club: Hosting Texas Tech, Iowa State gained 569 yards, was plus-one for turnovers, had a 33:45-26:15 time of possession edge and lost. Visiting Ball State, Eastern Michigan gained 503 yards and lost by 15 points. Hosting Tennessee State, Murray State gained 549 yards and lost by 15 points. (Those zany Racers of Murray State averaged 36.6 points per game and finished 3-9.) Visiting Pittsburg of Kansas, Harding gained 536 yards and lost by 17 points. (The schools belong to Super Region 3 of the NCAA's little-known Super Regions.) Hosting Eastern Washington, Portland State gained 522 yards and lost by 22 points.
The 600 Club: Reader Mark Swartz of Honolulu reports, "President Obama's alma mater joins The 600 Club. Punahou High had 630 yards of offense and lost the Hawaii state championship to Mililani High. Public school beats private school, I like that."
Visiting Arizona State, Washington State gained 622 yards and lost by three touchdowns. The Cougars, who in October gained 812 yards versus Cal and lost, average 33.5 points per game and are 3-8.
Belong in a Club of Their Own: Wake Forest defeated Virginia Tech 6-3 in double overtime. Regulation ended 0-0. To prove it was no fluke, in four overtime possessions the teams combined for a net total of three yards gained. The contest offered three scoring plays compared to 18 punts, four missed field goals and four turnovers.
Obscure College Score: MIT 27, Husson 20 (opening round of Division III playoffs). Located in Bangor, Maine, Husson University's New England School of Communications advises aspiring sportscasters to have a famous father.
Next Week: Tuesday Morning Quarterback gets a chief of staff.