Last year Tuesday Morning Quarterback attended the Miami at Buffalo game, held on a blustery day. Your columnist wore a flannel shirt and tweedy sportcoat. Bills coaches trotted out in team sweaters. Then Jimmy Johnson, meister of the visitors, appeared from the tunnel dressed in a heavy North Face parka—the kind designed for assaulting K2—with the hood pulled up and wearing those enormous mega-gloves intended for snowmobiling. TMQ turned to his companion (not Jennifer Lopez, but I can’t say who because Jennifer gets insanely jealous) and remarked, “This game’s over.” So it was: The Dolphins lost by 20. Fear of cold doomed them before the ref even whistled play to begin.
Never was this phenomenon on better display than this weekend. Indianapolis, a dome-based team for whom “cold” is a setting on the air conditioning, went to Green Bay and tried to perform in swirling snow. Colts QB Peyton Manning, a Tennessee-based gentleman, had the ball flop out of his hand trying to pass on the first snap, costing the Colts a safety in a contest the Packers ultimately won by two. On the sidelines, Colts coaches wore McMurdo-base parkas and ski caps pulled over the ears; Packers coaches wore varsity jackets and baseball hats. Tampa Bay, a Florida team now 0-18 lifetime when the kickoff temperature is below 40, went into Chicago at 37 F and honked to the woeful Bears. Tampa sideline staff wore not only heavy parkas but balaclavas. Did they think 37 degrees was the Amundsen-Scott expedition? The Arizona (CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN FOOTBALL-LIKE SUBSTANCE) Cardinals left their land of sun and halter-tops and went to Philadelphia. Kickoff temperature was in the 40s, and the coaches wore heavy parkas. Parkas in the 40s: God help them if it should drop below freezing!
Ah, for the days of manly-man Minnesota coach Bud Grant. Back before the Vikes took their game indoors, Grant allowed the visiting team to have sideline heater units but banned them for his own players: Grant believed it was an advantage to shrug at the cold while others fretted about staying warm, and how right he was. This weekend every warm-weather team whose coaches overdressed lost in cold-weather cities. Contrapositive proves the rule: Dome-based Detroit won in frosty New Jersey as Lions coaches wore varsity jackets while Florida-based Jax won in Pittsburgh as Jaguars coaches wore varsity jackets and baseball caps on a nippy night. Thus TMQ proclaims two more laws of football: Cold Coaches = Victory, while Ridiculous K2 Survival Gear on Sideline ? Victory.
Best Plays of the Week: Best No. 1. Well-designed offenses have “series” plays in which an action shown early sets up something for later. In the first quarter, the Vikes faked to Robert Smith up the middle while a fake end-around was drawing the attention of Carolina defenders, then Smith snuck into the flat for a screen pass he took 53 yards to the house. In the second quarter the same action started again—Smith heads up middle, end starts around—causing defenders to think, “It’s that screen!” This time Minnesota gave the ball to Smith, and he ran for the touchdown.
Best No. 2. When Jax faced third and five from the Steelers’$2 18 with 15 seconds remaining in the half, Pittsburgh did not go blitz-wacky but rushed just two gentlemen and dropped nine. Jaguars QB Mark Brunell, expecting the blitz, was so befuddled he threw the ball away though no one was anywhere near him.
Best No. 3. Jersey/B second-string QB Ray Lucas lined up as a receiver in a trick formation and drew a pass interference penalty from a Dolphins DB, helping set up a field goal.
Worst Plays of the Week: Worst No. 1. Trailing Baltimore 17-0 in the third, spiraling-toward-the-water Dallas faced fourth and one at midfield. Tough-guy Emmitt Smith could have carried the ball behind one of the league’s heaviest lines. Instead, boom goes the punt. Cowboys coach Dave Campo might as well have phoned Ravens counterpart Brian Billick to concede. (Wait, you can only do that at 2 a.m.) As the snuggly warm Jimmy Johnson used to say, if you can’t make one single yard, you don’t deserve to win. Dallas didn’t even try to make one single yard. Final: Ravens 27, Cowboys 0.
Worst No. 2. One of the dumbest mistakes a QB can make is to heave-ho with a pass rusher right in his face, blocking view of the field. Doing this looks macho and avoids the sack but reliably generates INTs. Atlanta trailed San Francisco by three in the third quarter, ball in Niners territory, when a DL broke cleanly through the Falcons’ line and came straight at Chris Chandler. He heave-hoed to nobody in particular, and Niners DB Jason Webster ran the pick back 70 yards for six.
Worst No. 3. As Jersey/A CB/pitchman Jason Sehorn was chasing a Detroit runner in the third quarter, his pants came untied. Sehorn’s dilemma: make the tackle to prevent a touchdown or stop to pull up his pants to prevent loss of cool. He chose the latter, and the Lions scored. Hey, image is everything! No one chewed him out on the sideline. Sehorn, who has skipped practices to film TV commercials, continues to be coddled by Giants management, partly because he is the team’s only white star.
Day of the Deuce Disasters! Disaster No. 1: Indianapolis scored a touchdown making it Packers 19, Colts 9 early in the fourth. A two-point try would pull the Colts within eight, meaning one more touch and deuce could tie. Instead Colts coach Jim Mora took the single PAT and a nine-point deficit. Indianapolis ended up losing by two when a deuce attempt on its final touchdown would have been pointless owing to the lack of the first deuce attempt.
Disaster No. 2: In New Orleans, the Saints scored with 1:09 left to pull within nine before the conversion. Coaching theory here says take the single PAT because that puts the deficit at eight and sustains the chance of a last-second tie. If you go for two at this point and fail, the rest is silence. Saints coach Jim Haslett went for the deuce, failed, and fans got a jump heading for the parking lot.
Stats of the Week: Stat No. 1. Aaron Brooks, replacing the injured Jeff Blake at QB for the Saints, threw his first career pass. It was intercepted. But there’s hope: Colts RB Jim Finn, who fumbled his first career carry a week ago, scored a touchdown Sunday.
Stat No. 2. The Flaming Thumbtacks turned it over seven times against the Browns (Release 2.0), including give-aways on six of their first seven possessions. On the plus side, turnovers meant they only had to punt once.
Stat No. 3. In their four losses, the Giants have been outscored 80-7 in the first half.
Stat No. 4. The Cowboys defense has allowed five opposition running backs to have their career-high games this year.
Stat No. 5. The Bengals have played 11 games and completed three touchdown passes. Ye gods.
We’re All Professionals Here: At one point in the Buffalo-Kansas City game, there were penalties on four consecutive plays.
Combined Efficiency Watch: Readers know this column favors its proprietary “combined efficiency” ranking, the blend of offensive and defensive performance—with 2 being the ideal ranking (1st offensive plus 1st defensive) and 62 being worst. A month ago, based on combined efficiency analysis, TMQ suggested that Buffalo should rise and Detroit decline. Since that point the Bills have gone 4-0 and the Lions 2-2.
What do combined numbers show now? The Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons lead the league at 8 (6th offensive, 2nd defensive), followed by the Bills at 15 (10th offensive, 5th defensive), the Saints (13th offensive, 4th defensive) and Ravens (16th offensive, 1st defensive) tied at 17, and Minnesota at 18 (4th offensive, 14th defensive). Defending champ St. Louis appears shaky at 27 (1st offensive, 26th defensive), while the club playing above its watermark is Miami at 33 (24th offensive, 9th defensive). The cover-your-eyes franchises are the Falcons and Az-Men tied at 51 and the Bengals last at 53 (30th offensive, 23rd defensive). Based on the numbers, TMQ forecasts that the Persons look strong for the stretch run while the Marine Mammals will falter.
HMO Nightmare of the Week: Denver guard Mark Schlereth, who has had 29 operations during his 12-year career, just had his 15th surgery on his left knee.
Soon They Can Have All January Off: Seattle coach Mike Holmgren gave his players the entire bye week off as a reward for performance. The Seahawks are 4-7.
New Franchise of the Week: The next NFL expansion team has announced it will be known as the Houston Texans, rejecting TMQ’s preferred choices: the Texans Release 2.0 (the Kansas City Chiefs were originally the Dallas Texans), the Houston Gridlock (kudzu has been observed growing on the tires of immobilized SUVs during rush hour in this supposed free-market paradise), and the Houston Problems (as in, “Houston, we have a …”). The Houston Problems had great potential as a marketing-campaign line: “There’s just no end of Problems!” And as a sportscaster line: “Those Problems sure have problems.” Now we’ll never know.
The Texans have not yet displayed their sure-to-be-high-schoolish uniforms but have unveiled a lovely cow-inspired logo and announced the team colors will be “battle red, liberty white and deep steel blue.” (Check out their lovely cow-inspired logo at www.houstontexans.com; TMQ’s favorite aspect of this site is that it offers a “team history” section, though the Texans will not exist until 2002.) Liberty white? The sample looked an awful lot like Copy Machine White to TMQ. And battle red? Get with the times, Texans: Road Rage Red.
Besides, the NFL is supposed to be manly sport for manly men: The last thing it needs is cute J. Crew color names. J. Crew copywriters would make the Cleveland Browns (Release 2.0) into the Cleveland Warm Butterscotch. New England, which lately has been changing uniforms on an annual basis, could switch to Mayan Multicultural Mocha. Tampa could call its dominant color Pewter Out. San Francisco could be decked in Cap-Maxed Gold. Jax could call its color Squeamish Teal. The Raiders color could be Orthodox Sabbath Black. The Vikes? The Color Purple Purple. And that ordinary white on every team’s road jerseys? This is America: Make it Death to the King White.
Football Gods Intervene: Intervention No. 1. When Ryan Leaf threw a TD early against Denver, he made firing-a-six-shooter gestures toward Broncos players. At that moment, the gentlemen in question had three touchdown passes and eight interceptions on the year while his team was 0-10. The football gods are not amused by boasting and preening on the part of terrible players from cellar-dwelling teams. Leaf’s punishment was that his Bolts were allowed to take a 34-17 second-half lead, then forced to watch the lead evaporate during a Denver comeback victory. The football gods may grind the clock, but they grind exceeding small.
Intervention No. 2. Final Saturday: Yale 34, Harvard 24. Be they right, be they wrong, the football gods have spoken.
Great Moments in Management: Buffalo let Bruce Smith go because he was “too old”; Smith, who had three sacks and a safety last night, may end up as Defensive Player of the Year. The Persons’ victory over the Rams was a sterling example of how defense trumps offense. The Rams went in averaging 39 scored, and the Persons averaging 16 allowed. Defense prevailed, as 20 were allowed, a slight increase for the Persons but a big drop for St. Louis.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Failed blitzes of the weekend: Detroit faces third and eight, odds favor the defense; the Giants send seven, 32-yard TD pass to the Lions’ Johnny Morton. San Diego backed up deep in its territory, the Broncos send six, 83-yard TD pass to Jeff Graham. The Saints blitzed six, including a DB, when the Raiders faced third and long; 25-yard completion on a shovel pass on which the blitzers merrily rushed past the RB with the ball.
Guaranteed Winners! In an improbable e-mail, reader Donna DeFrank of Mantua, N.J., writes, “Thanks to your article ’Punt, Pass, and Predict,’ I have won the football pool at work twice—the first week picking EVERY GAME correctly!” How come my own advice never works for me? TMQ hasn’t ever won the office football pool. Donna also sweetly reminds that in the August article in question, TMQ predicted a generic final score of 13-10. She asks, has it happened this season? Why, how kind of you to inquire: It was Chicago 13, Tampa Bay 10 this weekend and Detroit 13, Falcons 10 last weekend. But though TMQ chides others for failed final-score forecasts, no credit is deserved here. This piddling excuse for a prediction succeeded solely by blind chance.
Here lies one of the essential differences between Tuesday Morning Quarterback and other football columnists. While they feign insider information and confidently make predictions in hopes that no one will ever go back and check, TMQ absolutely guarantees he has no idea what he’s talking about. One of the goals of this column is to show that amateur football writers can be just as wrong as professionals. And the goal is being achieved! The professional football columnists do nothing all day long except live in the NFL alternative reality. TMQ, on the other hand, is wrong strictly in his spare time. TMQ has a real job—actually several real jobs; I’m on the mortgage-payment incentive plan—and dictates this column to Cindy Crawford while shaving. (Himself, not her.)
And We’re Sorry That on the Pro Bowl Ballot, If You Punch Next to “Levon Kirkland,” the Vote Goes to Sam Cowart: For the third time this season, the league formally apologized for blowing a call in a Pittsburgh game. Most recently, in the Steelers’ loss to the Eagles, Philadelphia recovered a late onside kick that allowed it to boot the field goal that caused the overtime it won; turns out the Eagles committed an uncalled penalty during the onside. Against Cleveland, refs mishandled the final seconds of the clock, depriving Pittsburgh of its chance to launch a tying field goal. And after the Steelers’ three-point loss to Tennessee, the league admitted Pittsburgh should have prevailed on a challenge to an official’s ruling. Because the call was not overturned, Pittsburgh lost a timeout that would have been valuable during a last-second drive for a field goal to tie. Harmonic weirdness: Two of the three blown calls involved the same player, Hines Ward.
TMQ sympathizes with the Old Economy team (surely the Pittsburgh Silicon would be a better name today), which now has at least one L as a result of zebra follies—the Eagles contest would have been over had the onside penalty been called. But there’s contributory negligence, as lawyers would say. Consider the circumstances of the Tennessee call. Late in the third, Pittsburgh trailing the Flaming Thumbtacks by seven, Ward caught a long pass and appeared to score. Officials ruled him down at the Tennessee 1. Steelers coach Bill Cowher challenged the call and lost a timeout when the spot was upheld; later the league acknowledged Ward had broken the plane. But the Steelers scored on the next play anyway. Cowher challenged a ruling that resulted in first and goal, Steelers. You’re supposed to challenge calls that help the other team, not calls that give you first and goal.
Calling Katherine Harris: If you go to www.nfl.com and click the “Pro Bowl Ballot” line, the section that appears is … confusing! And there’s a big disclaimer that says, NOTE: BALLOTS WILL NOT BE COUNTED UNTIL THEY HAVE BEEN REVIEWED AND FORMALLY SUBMITTED. “Formally submitted” to an NFL Properties marketing division? Maybe what Palm Beach County needed was a ballot disclaimer. This makes TMQ wonder, did Bruce Matthews really win his Hawaii trip all those years?
Fake Kick = Victory: The Bills and Persons ran surprise fake kicks and won; the only trick kick by a losing team was the Saints’ last-gasp onside that everyone expected.
Haiku Corner: Here are staff and reader haiku:
Belichick picks Pats
Jets soar, P-People founder
What was he thinking?
Eight won and three lost
Great numbers for “rebuilding”
Marino? Who’s he?
Weekend sports Sabbath
No Bush/Gore stuff on Sunday
Time for beer and ball.
Ryan Leaf drops back
Another incomplete? No,
In South Florida
Two strange ballots in one week
First the Canes, now this.
Keep submitting your verse to the “The Fray,” slugging entries “Football Haiku,” “Football Six-Part Cantos,” and so on.
Correction of the Year: Actual correction from the New York Times: “The Q&A column in Science Times on Nov. 7 about the mucus that makes frogs’ tongues sticky misstated the feeding process of tongueless aquatic frogs. They move food into their mouths with their limbs, not by using water currents.” One is left to wonder which frog wrote in to complain about the story. And one marvels that the same newspaper that is so fastidious about correctly characterizing the feeding process of tongueless aquatic frogs is so cavalier about endlessly printing incorrect predictions of exact final NFL scores. Is the New York Times trying to suggest that tongueless aquatic frogs are more important than football?
Hidden Indicator of the Week: Three quarterbacks (Rich Gannon, Rob Johnson, and Kordell Stewart) finished as their teams’ leading rushers while a fourth (Shawn King) out-rushed the lead back of the opposition team. This is the sort of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider’s understanding of the sport. Unfortunately, Tuesday Morning Quarterback has no idea what it means.
Running Items Department
Obscure College Scores: Nebraska-Omaha 14, Pittsburg of Kansas 3. Bonus Obscure Score: Mid-American Nazarene 27, Azusa Pacific 21. Double Bonus Obscure Score: Richmond 21, William & Mary 18. Well of course an entire city would defeat one guy and one woman!
Most Embarrassing Dennis Miller Moment: Suspended out of respect for Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin; not one single person anywhere in the country voted for him by mistake. Though not only did Miller, last night, for the second time devote his opening monologue to discussing how important it was that his own face had appeared on a magazine cover, his cryptic reference to Jeff George having a rifle arm “like a Manlicher-Carcano” was simply revolting. A Manlicher-Carcano was the rifle used to murder John Kennedy.
Most Embarrassing Don Ohlmeyer Moment: Ohlmeyer announced that despite MNF’s all-time-low ratings amid a run of fabulous games, Dennis Miller would “probably” return next season. This is like Bill Clinton announcing he “probably” will be faithful.
New York Times Final-Score Score: Once again the Paper of Record goes 0-15 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 0-173 for the season. Times predicted: Broncos 23, Bolts 17. Actual: Broncos 38, Bolts 37. Times predicted: Chiefs 17, Bills 14. Actual: Bills 21, Chiefs 17. (Half right!) Times predicted: Rams 30, Persons 24. Actual: Persons 33, Rams 20. Reader Brad Hammill’s generic final score—Home Team 20, Visiting Team 14—also goes 0-15, bringing this item to 0-87 since inception.
Honored Guest Predictions: The Miami Herald is another newspaper engaged in a quixotic attempt to predict exact final scores of NFL games. This weekend, as TMQ looked in, the Herald went 0-15. Herald predicted: Steelers 24, Jax 13. Actual: Jax 34, Steelers 24. Herald predicted: Dolphins 27, Jersey/B 20. Actual: Jersey/B 20, Dolphins 3. (Half right!) According to a Herald spokesperson, however, hand recounting of NFL statistics shows the paper has been 100 percent correct on every prediction this season.
If your favorite paper predicts scores and they can be viewed on the Web or e-mailed, let TMQ know via The Fray, slugging your entry “Hometown Paper.”
Reader Animadversions: Several readers wrote in to protest TMQ’s political references to the election food fight. On reflection, maybe they’re right. As Thomas Jefferson so wisely said, all men and women “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and lifting the home blackout rule 72 hours in advance.” So why taint football by association with politics?
TMQ Trivia Challenge: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to do poorly on the Trivia Challenge.” (TMQ, 2000.) This is the lesson from last week’s question. It was:
Everyone knows pro football at one time did not allow the forward pass. (At least, everyone with priorities in order knows this.) Of the following, identify any inaccurate statement about pro football days of yore:
—Grabbing the facemask was legal.
—A field goal was worth five points.
—A field goal was worth four points.
—Balls deflected off the officials remained in play, leading to the famed “zebra bounce” trick play immortalized by the Massillon Tigers.
—For night games, the ball was white with black stripes.
—There was a team called the Pottsville Maroons.
—There was a team called the Kenosha Steam Roller.
Most entrants knew grabbing the facemask was once legal—doesn’t it seem like a natural gesture?—and that the value of field goals has changed. But entrants tended to disbelieve the white ball and the existence of the Pottsville Maroons. The Maroons were a popular barnstorming team from a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania. Scheduled to play in the 1925 NFL championship, they were tossed out when the team defied league orders by playing an exhibition against former Notre Dame players; the result was that the 1925 championship was awarded to Chicago by league fiat, leaving no champion who prevailed on the field of honor. This “Anthracite Antic” helped end the days of barnstorming; the lore of the tragic Pottsville boys is sung here. TMQ feels that, today, the Arizona Cardinals would be better off as a barnstorming team.
On a completely arbitrary basis, the judges hand this Trivia Challenge to Paul Decker of Lexington, Mass., who correctly noted that there was never a “zebra bounce” and never a Kenosha Steam Roller: Though there was a club from Kenosha and, there was a club called the Steam Roller from Providence. Isn’t the Steam Roller a great name for a football team? A lot more evocative than the Houston Texans, whom TMQ plans to call the Texas Texans. Über-trivia-meister Mark Longbrake adds the fun detail that grabbing the facemask became illegal in stages. First, players could grab anyone’s. As of 1956, grabbing was legal exclusively for tackling the ball-carrier. Only in 1962 was all grabbing of the facemask criminalized.
As a second history lesson, here is this week’s Trivia Challenge:
Of the following, identify any inaccurate statement about pro football days of yore:
—A touchdown was worth five points.
—Offensive linemen were eligible receivers.
—Pudge Heffelfinger was the first gentleman ever paid to play football.
—There was a team called the Chicago Bullies.
—Officials had horns, not whistles.
—The Duluth Eskimos immortalized the “fumblerooski,” in which the ball is deliberately left on the ground.
—Helmets were optional.
—Roughing the passer was legal.
Submit your answers via The Fray, titling them “Trivia Answer” or something clever like that. And remember to include your e-mail address in the highly improbable event you win.