Sports Nut

The Masses Huddle

Because the presidential debates begin tonight, “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” will momentarily put aside its normal obsession with such vital matters as lead blocks and line stunts to bring you, as a public service, the candidates’ positions on the NFL:

Al Gore: 
Favors “targeted” passes. (You’d be surprised how many teams don’t!) Federal inspectors would participate in game-plan sessions to ensure that teams throw the most passes to the lowest-paid players. FBI to listen in on coaches’ headsets for evidence of discrimination in play-calling. 

Free steroid benefits. All androgens, supplements, and painkillers would be covered under new “prescriptions for performance” plan.

Working families, single mothers, gays and lesbians who recycle, H1-B visa holders, and NEA and Sierra Club members to get federally subsidized cotton candy at games.

Spread-the-field formations would be banned as sprawl.

Field goals would become field quotas.

French kissing of cheerleaders before kickoffs; 45-second clock to be used.

George W. Bush:
Favors higher defense spending. Salary cap for defensive players would be raised to $350 billion per team. Linebackers to be compensated on a cost-plus basis.

Privatize stadiums. All NFL venues would become private clubs; fans must be “tapped” by gate agents to gain entry. Tapping criteria would not be explained!

Affirmative action for the slow. Each NFL team would be required to have at least one white DB or WR.

Marriage penalty reduced from 15 yards to five yards. 

Stock options instead of cash bonuses. Yards gained must “vest” before they can be counted in league statistics.

Corporate sponsorship of referees: “This chop-block call brought to you by ExxonMobil.”

Pat Buchanan, Reform Party:
Deport foreign-born place-kickers.

Confiscate property of Jewish owners.

Training camps to be renamed concentration camps. (“Just for nostalgia’s sake,” candidate says.)

Mandatory blitz.

John Hagelin, Natural Law Party:
Total, unlimited prosperity for all clubs; every team would be undefeated every year at no cost to anyone!

Obsolete 19th-century concepts (muscle on muscle, most points wins, etc.) to be replaced by advanced, nonmaterial 22nd-century paradigms of quantum physics. (Players would dream-visualize the game without actually playing, fans would remote-view using relativistic Einsteinian time dilation coupled with unified-field Higgs boson tunneling as prophesied by the yogic Zen master of the fourth manifestation of the … ZZZZZ.)

Ralph Nader, Green Party:
Huddles must be open to the public.

In tonight’s debate, air time will be wasted on such supposedly “important” topics as Social Security and nuclear disarmament instead of things that really matter, like football. So as a public service, Tuesday Morning Quarterback projects what would happen if the candidates were asked a football question:

Moderator Jim Lehrer: Would, that is to say, would, in your opinion, in a manner of speaking, would each of you tell us, that is would each of you at this time be willing to state, would you at this time tell us in your opinion at this time whether bobbled-catch calls at the sideline should be subject to review in the final two minutes of each half. Please be succinct.

Al Gore: I am fighting for the working families of America who care about sideline reviews in the final two minutes! Powerful interests oppose the review of these plays. But I am fighting! Fighting for you! If elected, I would appoint a presidential commission composed of working families, single mothers, gays and lesbians who recycle, H1-B visa holders, and NEA and Sierra Club members to analyze the critical issue of sideline bobble calls. We would use the best available science and data. We would hold interminable meetings. I would appoint my hot, sexually insatiable wife Tipper to head the commission. By the way, I guess ya’ll have heard that Tipper and I still make out like teen-agers. But only in public; at this age we need a little extra kick, if you catch my drift. After the commission returned its report, I would very, very seriously discuss the findings with scientists, philosophers, and theologians, and then take no action. When I took no action, I’d be doing it for you. For you!

George W. Bush: Sideline judgment calls are a matter for the states, for the states to—I like my chances of getting that call reversed, I really do. That’s why I’m here today. I haven’t played in the football games of the past. So I’m not going to argue with the officials—I am going to bring all Americans together in one big stadium, where we can munch on the hot dogs of freedom and drink the lite beer of diversity and cheer for the future of this country! No tengo ninguna idea como responder a esta pregunta, pero cuando cambio a español, nadie se da cuenta.* People can disagree—I know I have! But we don’t need big government intruding on the sidelines of our God-given football games. The Foundling Fathers wanted the states to determine sideline calls. That’s where I think I stand. And I am not afraid to say it.

*I have no idea how to respond to this question, but when I switch to Spanish, nobody knows that!

Best Play of the Day No. 1: Facing third and five on the Tampa Bay eight with four minutes remaining, the Maryland Indigenous Persons ran a quick-snap play that started the instant the linemen set. Several Tampa defenders, including extremely highly paid Pro Bowl DT Warren Sapp, were talking to each other and not looking when the play began. Touchdown.

Best Plays of the Day No. 2: Trailing by a point with the ball on their own 31, with 1:04 left and the crowd generating military-afterburner-class noise, the Colts marched into field-goal range and launched the winning kick as time expired in Buffalo. On this seven-play, 42-yard minidrive, Indianapolis never once panicked and threw deep, sticking to methodical short plays. Following the Ken Stabler Principle—go down the middle in the final minute because the defense will expect you to go to the sidelines—Colts QB Peyton Manning threw or ran to the middle on six of the seven plays. Manning performed with the total poise one would expect of a 28-year veteran like him. (Third year? That’s got to be a misprint.)

Worst Play of the Week No. 1: Facing third and four at its own 30 in a close game, Tampa Bay set up in run formation against the Indigenous Persons. Knowing Tampa’s conservative game plan, the Persons put nine players on the line, meaning a golden opportunity to pass but no chance of a successful run. Tampa ran anyway and lost seven yards.

Worst Play of the Week No. 2: Trailing Miami 31-13 halfway through the last quarter, winless Cincinnati faced fourth down at the Marine Mammals 17. Rather than going for the first and at least a chance to stage a comeback, they kicked a field goal so they would only lose 31-16. Maybe this will help the Bengals in the NCAA college ranking next week.

Bonehead Play of the Week No. 1: Steelers rookie WR Plaxico Burress caught a long pass against Jax, went down, and then strutted and spiked the ball. This was not only boneheaded because spiking draws a yellow flag: Burress had not been tackled. In college whenever a runner hits the ground the play is over, but in the NFL the action continues if the runner falls on his own, as Burress had. So when he spiked it was a live ball—a fumble—grabbed by Jax and returned almost to the Steelers’ goal line.

Bonehead Play of the Week No. 2: Miraculously leading Miami 13-3 with nine seconds to go in the first half, winless Cincinnati had the ball at its own 35. Rather than order a kneel-down, Bengals coaches called for a pass that, if successful, would have accomplished technically nothing. Marine Mammals DE Jason Taylor broke through, snatched the ball from the hand of Bengal QB Akili Smith—it looked like Taylor was taking a Statue of Liberty handoff—and ran for a touchdown as the clock expired.

Reader Haiku of the Week: This gem from reader David Foster concerns the Indigenous Persons, which have regrettably fallen into the hands of Owner/Twerp Daniel Snyder, and is dedicated to FedEx Field:

Owner spends much cash
Expensive team, costly loss
Six dollar Bud, please

Here’s a football heroic couplet from reader Jon Gabriel:

Chrebet doth glitter like a morning star
Keyshawn, just a firefly trapp’d in a jar

More verse will run in the future; submit yours to “The Fray,” slugging entries “Football Haiku,” “Football Heroic Couplet,” “Football Love Sonnet,” and so on.

Stat of the Week No. 1: The Rams have now put up 2,527 yards of offense through five games, which puts them on a pace for 96,026 yards (54.6 miles, actual figure at current pace) during the decade. That temporal damping field oscillator Kurt Warner brought with him on the star-cruiser from his homeworld sure is coming in handy!

Stat of the Week No. 2: On Sunday, final day of the baseball regular season, five major-league baseball games produced more total runs than there were total points in the Ravens-Browns contest.

Stat of the Week No. 3: Kurt Warner’s passer rating is now 158.3. This is the maximum under the NFL formula; there is no 158.4. If Warner keeps improving, the league will have to publish gold stars next to his name in the rankings.

Stat of the Week No. 4: In losing to the Flaming Ts, the Giants held the ball just 17 minutes and ran just 49 plays to 80 by Tennessee. Ye gods.

Defensive Player of the Month: TMQ increasingly admires Dallas safety George Teague, the gentleman who sprinted halfway across the field to lay out Niners WR Terrell Owens as he performed his excruciatingly embarrassing prance-dance in the SF-Cowboys game. True, Teague’s hit came a full minute after the whistle sounded, which falls short of ideal. But at least Teague was defending the dignity of the game. (Technical note: In football terms, a man dancing is embarrassing, while two people slamming into each other violently is considered dignity.)

Now the league has imposed an elaborate new rule to prevent Owens-esque displays. Additional rules are not needed. The league should simply adopt Teague’s solution—any visiting player who excessively celebrates runs the risk of being body-slammed by home-team players—and let the fellows police themselves.

(Perhaps TMQ should not use the term “police” in the context of the Dallas team. Internet joke: Did you hear that the Cowboys have adopted the honor system? Yes, Your Honor. No, Your Honor.)

Tires of the Week: TMQ, whose ancestral roots are in Buffalo, over the weekend attended a family gathering and the Colts-at-Bills. TMQ’s brother Neil, a professor at Texas Christian University (proposed new nickname: Genetically Mutated Frogs), picked up the rental car. He had reserved a midsize but at the Hertz counter was offered a free upgrade to full-size. Neil said sure. (Aren’t professors supposed to be skeptical?) We walked out to behold our free upgraded vehicle—a Ford Explorer with Firestone Wilderness AT tires. Unsought bonus: You get a much better look at the countryside when you’re driving very slowly!

Sociological indicator: Above Wilson Stadium during the game flew a small plane towing the banner, “Shop at Buffalo Gun Center.”

Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback? TMQ has heard from many who ask why a column with “morning” in its name is posting about 1 p.m. Eastern. Officially that’s morning in the Seattle alternate universe where Slate production is located. But scientific studies have determined that 1 p.m. Eastern is afternoon for many readers.

Why the delay? Get this: Microsoft claims it has computer problems. TMQ files the column at 8 a.m. Eastern, after watching the Monday Night game, sleeping a few restive hours with visions of two-deep zones in his head, rising well before dawn for a column-day breakfast of steak and eggs (served by Cindy Crawford in that little French maid’s number she just picked up at the new 20-acre sex outlet mall in Paris), and then entering a contemplative state. But Microsoft actually says that because of technical difficulties involving computers, the column cannot post until afternoon in half the country. Business at the speed of—walking!

TMQ has brought the matter to the attention of Microsoft at the highest levels. Consider the following intercepted e-mail exchange:

Billg: This TMQ problem could bring the whole company down. Why doesn’t the whole country just switch to Seattle time?

Ballmer: Great idea. We’ll use monopoly power to force them to!

Microsoft is now putting some of their best people on it. Within a few weeks, TMQ will post in the morning everywhere.

Hidden Indicator of the Week: Judged by Sunday’s game clocks, the Rams had broken 50 points before seven teams—the Bills, Bucs, Browns, Cardinals, Giants, Packers, and Jaguars—had broken 10 points. This is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider’s understanding of the game, and this time Tuesday Morning Quarterback knows exactly what it means: NASA had better accelerate its search for Kurt Warner’s homeworld.

Running Items Department

Obscure College Score of the Week: Keep submitting your obscure team nicknames to The Fray, slugging them “Funny Nickname (Not Mine).” An item loaded with obscure nicknames will run soon.

Obscure College Score of the Week: Western State of Colorado 83, Panhandle State 0. Bonus Obscure College Score: Indiana of Pennsylvania 24, Slippery Rock 20.

Most Embarrassing Dennis Miller Moment: Seattle coach Mike Holmgren “carpet-bombed them back to the tree line. I love the smell of napalm in the morning, it smells like victory.” This isn’t merely bad taste: It is offensive. What napalm does to human beings should not be a subject for promotional jokes, not even for a corporation as unfeeling as Disney (owner of ABC).

The Monday Night Football Web site’s “Miller Moments” section declares, “On Oct. 2, Dennis Miller delivered many amusing highlights throughout the Seahawks-Chiefs AFC West contest.” How very strange that the “I love the smell of napalm” line isn’t there.

Check out the miserable quality of what is there, bearing in mind that these are what Disney considers the highlights. Time to end the Miller fiasco while MNF still has some ratings left to save.

New York Times Final-Score Score: Once again the Paper of Record goes 0-14 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the Times Final-Score Score to 0-71 for the season so far. Times predicted: Giants 15, Titans 13. Actual: Titans 28, Giants 14. Times predicted: Carolina 21, Dallas 13. Actual: Dallas 16, Carolina 13. Times predicted: Chiefs 18, Seahawks 10. Actual: Chiefs 24, Seahawks 17.

Some readers have said of TMQ’s deflating of the New York Times predictions, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” An advanced, pan-media review of predictions is in the works.

TMQ Trivia Challenge: Like Borg drones being hit with Federation phaser blasts, TMQ readers are adapting. A month ago, Trivia Challenge answers filtered in over a few days, and for each correct reply there were several wild guesses. Now a barrage of answers comes within the hour after the column posts, and this week every one was correct.

Have readers rushed out to buy football encyclopedias, then positioned themselves at screens waiting for Tuesday afternoon to arrive and the Tuesday morning column to post? The Official NFL 2000 Record & Fact Book, source authority for some TMQ Trivia Challenge material, has jumped on from sales rank 31,587 a few weeks ago to 4,645. Obviously it’s a Tuesday Morning Quarterback phenomenon; I’ve just got to find a way to get a commission on this action.

Here was last week’s question:

Walter Payton is the all-time rusher, Reggie White all-time first in sacks, George Blanda all-time first in scoring. Now let’s get to some really important records: What gentleman holds the all-time mark for the most two-point conversions?

TMQ expected readers would guess old AFL stars like Cookie Gilchrist and Charley Hennigan from the ‘60s two-point-wacky era. Every reply was dead-on with the correct answer, Terance Mathis of the Atlanta Falcons, a current player who has done the two-point deed an unprecedented six times. (The Falcons go for two a lot because they are behind so often.) The first correct reply, from reader Chad Hart of Ames, Iowa, came scorching in just 32 minutes after the column posted.

Here is this week’s TMQ Trivia Challenge:

On Sunday the St. Louis Rams rang up 614 yards of total offense. Not too shabby, but a middling effort compared to the best days in NFL annals. Of the four listed below, which is not an actual NFL record for total offense?

735 yards, Los Angeles vs. New York Yanks, September 1951
686 yards, San Francisco vs. Los Angeles Rams, September 1994.
683 yards, Pittsburgh vs. Chicago Cardinals, December 1958.
682 yards, Chicago vs. New York Giants, November 1943.