Sports Nut

Forget the Titans


Ye gods, the disintegration of the Flaming Thumbtacks is so agonizing, it has inspired an onslaught of reader haiku:

My mighty Titans
stumbled: boo-boos and damned cap.
Can we start over?
“Pamela” Eddie is hobbled.
DBs so terribly bad.
Titans games are lame
Bo Link Titans lose again.
Music City
Seems so long ago.
Barry Wallace

Considering the Titans were a purist’s team—efficient OL, power running, built around defense—it’s hard to accept they are gasping for breath at fifth place in their division and Sunday just barely beat cellar-dwelling Jax. Tennessee is 3-5 stretching back to the point last season when it finished with the best record in football. Last year: Titansfirst overall in defense, seventh rushing. This year: 27th defense, 26th rushing.

The football gods continue to punish Tennessee for honoring the ousted Titan panoply (Cronus, Hyperion, etc.) rather than their successors, the Olympians (Zeus, Hera, etc). TMQ contends the defending deities could have prevailed at the supernatural battle of the Titanomachy had the Titans not blitzed too much. Nevertheless Zeus’ team won, and the regnant gods are angry that the Nashville franchise did not venerate them by becoming the Tennessee Olympians.

But there is bad football afoot, too. The Thumbtacks had many sal-cap deletions, especially among DBs. Management was complacent about the team’s continuing weakness at WR. Last season great blocking papered over a lot of the Titans’ offensive shortcomings, but injuries and age have depleted the OL. Eddie George has been looking like he’s run so hard, he has used his body up young. Watch Jerome Bettis carefully—despite his rep, he jukes constantly to avoid contact while rarely lowering his shoulder. That’s why he’s still barreling after nine years. George lowers his shoulder on almost every run, and it’s started to catch up to him.

Tennessee also suffered the most painful coaching losses of any NFL team. Tastefully named defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his assistant Jerry Gray left to become head coach and defensive coordinator at Buffalo. They’re struggling with the Bills’ cap-imploded roster but nevertheless are top-shelf types whom the Titans dearly miss. You don’t drop from first to 27th based on a couple player changes alone.

Things could get worse for the Thumbtacks, who are already wayover next year’s cap. Which brings us to the team’s emblematic offseason mystery move, Kevin Carter.

The Titans traded a No. 1 pick for the flashy but erratic DE, first saying goodbye to steady DE Kenny Holmes to make cap room. This though Carter played himself out of the Rams lineup in 2000. Carter has been a let-down for the Titans, too—never think you’re going to marry them first, then change them! He plays strictly for sack stats, ignoring the run. On Sunday, Jax’s Mark Brunnell had a long scramble to set up a TD when Carter sprint-rushed so far up the field he looked like he was running a pass pattern, leaving his “under” responsibility exposed. Brunnell took off like he’d been lying in wait for this classic sack-obsessed DE’s mistake. To top it off, the T’s moved Pro Bowler Jevon Kearse from left end, his natural position, to right because Carter said he could only play left; Holmes was happy to line up wherever coaches wanted him.

Carter may become an expensive discard. He signed for what looked like a $10 million bonus, and in theory a gentleman who just cashed a huge check cannot be cut for years because proration of the bonus would crash-land onto the salary cap. Carter’s agent boasted that the deal made his client waiver-proof—funny that he was worried about this. But Carter actually got $3 million up front ($1.5 million per sack so far); the balance is a “split bonus,” due next winter. Here’s the math: If Tennessee pays the second bonus, Carter will count $2.4 million against the 2002 cap and much more against future caps. If he is released, the 2002 cap charge would be an all but identical $2.5 million. So from a cap standpoint, the man practically has a sign taped to his back that says WAIVE ME. If the Titans keep him, Carter will haunt the team’s cap for years, whereas if they cut him, he’ll be gone from the books in 2003.

Thus, Tennessee management carefully structured the Carter deal so this gentleman could be ditched. When you let a good player go and trade a No. 1 pick for a guy you’re already worried about getting out from under, you are pointing the compass south.

In other NFL news, it’s California Resplendent! Here are the NFL state rankings, bearing in mind that for this season only, TMQ agreed to pretend that the Jets and Giants do not play in Jersey:

California: 16-6
Pennsylvania: 9-5
Ohio: 8-6
Missouri: 8-7
Maryland: 8-8
Florida: 10-11
New York: 10-13 (13-17 if counting World Series)
All others single-team states

Best Plays of the Week. Best in a Lost Cause: Pittsburgh had an excellent game plan for the Ravens, passing on first down, then emphasizing the run in the second half as Baltimore’s interior line fatigued. Kordell Stewart looked amazingly QB-like as the Steelers outgained the defending champs almost 2-1 and would have triumphed had it not been for four botched field goals.

Best On-Field Nudity: On his 33-yard TD run against the Bills, Horsies QB Peyton Manning worked the naked bootleg so well that this slow-moving gentleman was 10 yards downfield before defenders realized he had the ball. Then, Buffalo DBs recoiled from tackling him as if he actually were unclothed.

Best Mike Brown Play of the Week: The Browns (Release 2.0) had a 14-point lead and the ball in Chicago territory with two minutes remaining and managed to lose. The Bears put up 20 points in 3:05 through the game’s end and overtime, Mike Brown instant-replaying his overtime TD return of the week before.

Worst Plays of the Week. Worst Cruise Control: Leading the Giants 24-7, Dallas recovered a fumble on the New York 27 with 39 seconds remaining in the half. Rather than go for the end zone and put the game away, the Girls ran into the line three times—using a play apparently called Stumble Left—then tried a figgie that doinked. Dallas coaches seemed to think there were 39 seconds remaining in the game, not the half; the Girls went on to lose 27-24. And in using this moniker for Dallas, we certainly do not mean to insult girls!

Worst Pass-Wacky: Reaching first down at the Jets’$2 12 on two occasions, the Saints passed on four of five snaps—though the Jets are dead last in the league against the run. Two of the four throws were intercepted.

Worst Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Trailing by 17 in the fourth, the Falcons faced fourth and two on the Pats’$2 3. To deafening home-crowd boos, they took the field goal, then wheezed to a 24-10 defeat. Yes, 17 points means three scores needed, but Atlanta also needed to show backbone; anyway, you may get a long kick later, but how often will you be back to the goal line? Plus Atlanta failed to respect an immutable law: Kick Early, Go for It Late.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 2: As Bay of Green’s Allen Rossum broke into the clear for the late return TD that beat City of Tampa, Bucs punter Mark Royals had the last shot and was in good position. Royals saw the runner coming and simply threw himself to the ground almost 10 yards before Rossum arrived to avoid having to make a hit.

Lowest IQ Play in League History: Trailing by a touchdown with a minute left, the Saints reached the Jets’$2 5, and a New York player was flagged for face-masking, which would have made it first and goal inside the 3. But Saints tackle Kyle Turley, the illustrated man—check his arms—punched out a Jets player directly in front the officials, then threw his helmet. The latter “by rule,” as zebras say, is 15 yards regardless of circumstances. (“By rule” means they have no discretion; it’s NFL mandatory sentencing.) One Turley foul negated the Jets’ foul; the second marched the Saints backward. The first down was voided, and Turley ejected to boot. Rather than have four point-blank shots, New Orleans wheezed out from the 20.

Stat No. 1: Stretching back to last season, the Cowboys have played five QBs in the last 10 games.

Stat No. 2: Tony Gonzalez became the second tight end this season to complete a pass.

Stat No. 3: Jax and KC are a combined 4-11 despite having been outscored by a combined nine points. The Jets are 5-3 though they have been outscored by 18 points.

Stat No. 4: Last season the Bears finished 19th in rushing defense; this season they are second. Last season the Bills finished sixth in rushing defense; this season they are 25th. What’s the common factor? Four-hundred-pound DT Ted “Walk-In Freezer” Washington, cap-cut by Buffalo and signed by Chicago. And Washington was unwanted on the free-agent market for months before the Bears inked him! At one point he called Buffalo and asked to come back. The Bills said no.

Stat No. 5: There were 33,430 people at the Arizona-Philadelphia game.

Revenge of the West Coast Offense™: On one play in the Raiders-Broncs MNF,all-time great Jerry Rice stayed in the backfield to throw a block. He cleaned out a blitzer, and the pass was complete for a first down.

Al Davis Passed Over Again: People magazine named perpetually snarling Jon “I Was a Teen-Age Coach” Gruden to its 50 Most Beautiful list. But isn’t the whole point of beauty that … you can see it? Oh Jon, you’re beautiful when you’re grimacing.

International Programming Outrage: American Forces Network, the station seen by service men and women around the world, for its early game aired the frightening Girls-Giants matchup (combined record 5-8) rather than Steelers-Ravens (combined 9-4) or City of Tampa at Bay of Green (combined 7-5).

Cheerleader of the Week: The Miami and Dallas pep squads lead the NFL in aesthetic appeal, but making a strong move on the back turn are cheerpersons of the Denver Broncos. The squad offers an aesthetic combination of dance experience and three-dimensionality while radiating health; must be the mountain air. Actually Denver receives the highest natural background radiation of any American city—about 400 millirems annually from cosmic rays that penetrate the thinner mile-high atmosphere—so perhaps “radiate” health is right. This briefing paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discusses relative degrees of natural radiation exposure but inexplicably fails to mention the potential value of cosmic rays for increasing the babe supply.

Aspire to join? The Bronco cheerleaders’ audition info page includes this stern warning:

Auditions are not like a dance class. Your hair and makeup need to be performance quality (no pony tails). Our official salon is Antoine Du Chez and they are highly recommended.

Performance quality hair! Next time you’re in Denver, check out the clientele at Antoine Du Chez. And check the hair and impressive three-dimensionality of Broncs cheerperson and first-grade teacher Katy Rohrig. Why didn’t teachers look like this when TMQ went to school? If men are April when they woo and maids are May when they are maids, to TMQ, Katy Rohrig looks perfect for 11 p.m. on Nov. 6.

This Week’s Star Trek Complaint: Plots for three of the first five episodes of Enterprisehinged on crew members creeping with flashlights through spooky underground passages. Are we to believe that in deep space, all the really interesting stuff will be in tunnels?

But then, three of the four Star Wars movies involved duels at the edges of bottomless pits. Are we to believe that ultra-futuristic economics will require a bottomless-pit infrastructure? (Maybe the pits lead to Star Trek tunnels.) Official TMQ brother Frank, a judge on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals—whose Filing Tips section pleads that appellant briefs “be no more than 14,000 words”—has proposed that these scenes prove there is no OSHA in the Luke Skywalker galaxy. None of the bottomless pits, Frank notes, had guard rails. TMQ feels, however, that the scenes prove enlightened self-interest does not exist in the Skywalker galaxy. You should not need government to tell you to erect a guard rail around your bottomless pit!

Microsoft Lawyers, Please Don’t Read: TMQ was disappointed that the Justice Department settlement with Microsoft did not include mandatory Miami Dolphins cheerleader swimwear photos as the new Windows screen-saver. And why hasn’t the national press noticed that buried in the settlement is a requirement that all Windows desktops include an icon for online donations to the Republican National Committee? Also, the fine print says Microsoft now owns the rights to your DNA sequence. Chances are you weren’t going to use it anyway.

Late-Breaking Groin News: TMQ’s favorite sports chick is Bonnie Bernstein of CBS, who’s got the look, brains, and legitimate washed-up jock credentials. (Former All-American gymnast.) Because of her jock status, she goes where others fear to tread—last year, as TMQ noted, casually remarking to safety Blaine Bishop, “I notice you got popped in the groin pretty bad.” Bernstein was at her subspeciality again on Sunday, breaking into the Ravens-Steelers tilt to announce that reserve James Trapp had pulled a groin muscle. If the men are gawking at the cheerleaders’ highly aesthetic qualities, does this mean the women are gawking at … ?

Reader Haiku: Submit via the “Fray.” The penultimate concerns the fact, disclosed by the October Atlantic Monthly, that TMQ is a fading boomer with three kids. (My interests in football, science fiction, and unobtainable mega-babes are firmly fixed at age 19, however.) The final concerns the recent senior moment in which announcer Pat Summerall seemed to forget football’s rules.

The pride of the Bears,

stoutly wearing fifty-four.

Brian Urlacher.

—Byron DeBord
Towels are waving.

Stadium named for ketchup.

Slash? Less erratic.

—Jonah Cohen
Culpepper scores touch.

Bad for the Viking faithful:

Denny keeps his job.

—Anthony Presta
Last month’s Atlantic:

TMQ is a father.

What, he’s not nineteen?

—Thaddeus Lisowski
Summerall exclaims,

“First and goal! Where’s the kicker?!?”

Hang up the mike, Pat.

—Anna Hoover

Snyder Also Cleared To Spend Social Security Surplus: The owners’ meeting in Pittsburgh went a lot better than the winter meeting in Arizona, which a dozen owners refused to attend because they feared Al Davis would have them subpoenaed if they entered the state. (Tedious legal ramification of Davis’ hobby, which is attempting to destroy the NFL through litigation.) But the league made two ominous decisions regarding Owner/Maniac Dan Snyder of the Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons. First, it approved his purchase of an Arena team, scheduled to begin play in Washington in 2003. Snyder probably figures that in the Arena League, he can fire coaches during games.

Second, approaching the Owner/Maniac more generously than the IMF approaches Argentina, the NFL gave Snyder an additional 13 years to bring the Persons into compliance with the league’s debt-ceiling rule. All other NFL teams are limited to $125 million in borrowing; Snyder, who essentially used a leveraged buyout to acquire the Persons, owes $437 million. Which is to say the Owner/Maniac is the Ivan Boesky of the NFL, living large on debit and flim-flam. Wait, Boesky ended up in jail. Well, we can dream.

Ongoing Proliferation of Football-Like Substance: Speaking of Arena football, this minor league now has its own minor league—Arena 2—whose teams include the Bossier City Battle Wings, Columbus Wardogs, and Roanoke Steam. “Battle Wings?” And “Roanoke Steam” sounds like a microbrew. Quick now, in what state is Bossier City found?

If Tuesday Morning Quarterback founded an Arena 2 team, it would be the Chicken Wings.

TMQ Insider Exclusive! Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned exclusively that the Vikings’ annoying home-game motorcycle-revving noise is actually a chain saw revving. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive.

Running Items Department

ObscureCollegeScore of the Week: Trinity of Texas 38, Sewanee 7. Located in Tennessee, Sewanee is an ultra-serious liberal arts school with specialties in languages and Anglican theology. Its ultra-serious dorm-parties policy lists no fewer than 20 legalistic-wording regulations, including, “Trained sober representatives of the host must agree to monitor the party.” If assigned to monitor, the well-trained TMQ would look for a babe then say, “You’ve obviously had too much to drink. You’d better come with me.” Reader Aaron Kleinman notes that Sewanee students who make Order of the Gownsmen, an honors society, are allowed to wear academic robes to class. The College Guide further says Sewanee encourages ties for men and skirts for women, but “in recent years the number of well-dressed students and faculty has declined.”

Bonus Obscure Score: Emory & Henry 35, Washington & Lee 17. A four-way game! Mel Brooks would say the final was Emory 3, Henry 5, Washington 1, Lee 7. Emory & Henry, “the oldest college in Southwest Virginia,” is located in the bucolic Appalachian foothills town of Emory, Va. (Henry, Va., was slighted). The school offers an on-campus golf course.

BonusCollegeStat: In the record 58-56 septuple-OT game between Arkansas and Ole Miss, there were 12 touchdowns in overtime.

ObscureCollegeGame of the Year: Carmelo Ocasio caught nine passes for 194 yards as undefeated Indiana of Pennsylvania topped California of Pennsylvania 41-0 before 4,121 at George P. Miller Stadium in Indiana, Pa., in the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Obscure College Game of the Year. Review the entire game play-by-play here.

In a fit of wisdom, Pennsylvania lawmakers shelved the mad scheme to rename Cal. of Pa. as Eberly University. This press report notes:

California University of Pennsylvania announced yesterday it was dropping a controversial plan to rename the school after the moneyed Eberly family of Fayette County. The plan had been pushed by California University President Angelo Armenti Jr., who said renaming the state-owned school would enhance its reputation and make it easier to market in Eastern Pennsylvania. Many California alumni, faculty and students complained that they were blind-sided by Armenti’s proposal. “The plan was created in secrecy,” said Ron Forsythe, an assistant professor of English.

Secret name-change conspiracy, eh? Sounds like California of Pennsylvania needs a president who believes in the school’s name! TMQ suggests “Angelo Armenti Jr.” be changed to “R. Gresham Hollingsworth III” to make himself easier to market as he looks for a new college-president’s job. Preservation of the California of Pennsylvania versus Indiana of Pennsylvania rivalry assures that long after we have gone onto to meet the football gods, this game will still be played. Leaves will still fall, plastic-clad gentlemen will still slam into each other as guys try to get cheerleaders’ phone numbers and car alarms go off in the parking lot. But I wax contemplative:

Cal/Indy Pa.

May you always each fall play.

And good luck scoring.

—TMQ, 2001

New York Times Final-Score Score: Once again the Paper of Guesses goes 0-14 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 0-113 for the season and 0-373 since TMQ began tracking. Reader Brian Golden’s generic final score—Home Team 24, Visiting Team 10—also whiffs, bringing this item to 0-41 since inception.

Reader Animadversion: There’s been an ongoing debate in the Fray regarding whether one of TMQ’s sentences employed the literary device “metonymy” or “synecdoche.” The difference between the two may be summarized as … oh, forget it. Anyway, I am cleared to use literary devices because I hold a Poetic License Second Class. (Nothing in TMQ is first-class.) A Poetic License Second Class entitles the holder to exaggerate, extrapolate, split infinitives, and disguise sweeping generalizations as refreshing insights. Most sportswriters hold only a Fourth Class Poetic License, and I will not shock your sensibilities by revealing what this entitles them to do.

Reader Jaye used haiku to protest last week’s item on cult bad writer Georgette Heyer:

Georgette Heyer is

best romance writer ever!

For shame, TMQ.

Best romance writer ever! Isn’t that like being all-time leader in muffed punts?

Reader Murray relayed the heartening news that a recent episode of BostonPublic opened with a totally gratuitous shower scene of Jeri Ryan, former mega-babe of Star Trek: Voyager. TMQ strongly favors gratuitous nudity by mega-babes, no tiresome plot rationalization required. Murray’s haiku on this event:

Seven of Nine wet?

That’s public education.

Assimilate me!

Professor John Kessel of North Carolina State University protested TMQ’s making fun of the “Becoming Human” conference of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. Kessel was a speaker at the conference and, presumably, is human. (His current students are invited to share their perspective.) Kessel offered as evidence of his humanity the fact that he is a “lifetime Buffalo Bills fan,” which means he knows human suffering. TMQ is a Bills fan, too, and died a thousand deaths during the Super Bowl loss streak.

In fact, my incredibly cleverly titled book Tuesday Morning Quarterback—which is new stuff, not a collection of columns, and is now in stores, or you can buy it here—contains the following Bills haiku:

Four straight tries four Ls:

Nobody ever choked worse.

ermanent bummer.

TMQ, 2001

Finally, reader Paul Decker suggested that the Cleveland Browns (Release 2.0) have improved so much, TMQ should begin calling them Release 2.1.

Last Week’s Challenge … was to find embedded references from literature in the column.

Reader John Shea declared that the statement regarding my incredibly cleverly titled book Tuesday Morning Quarterback,“unfortunately there are no nudes” (you can buy the nudeless book here; have I plugged it enough this week?), was actually something two courtiers whispered to each other sotto voce during the play-within-a-play in Hamlet. Reader “GaryD” proposed that the running disclaimer line in the Challenge itself, “the final decision will be completely arbitrary,” is actually a quote from Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court decision that anointed W. president. GaryD vents in haiku, his verse requiring you to know that Hubbs is the nickname of Chief Justice Rehnquist:

Dubya v. Albert,

Decided by a coin toss.

Hubbs called heads—it’s Bush!

Many readers caught the obscure sci-fi reference: that the name-challenged stadium where the Rams play should, in honor of Kurt Warner’s space alien origins, be called the Tazenda Dome. Tazenda was the mysterious planet in Asimov’s “Foundation” series, where the mysterious Second Foundation was believed hidden, probably in tunnels. TMQ suspects Warner played his prep ball at East Tazenda High, the system’s blue third sun providing Friday night lights. The big game each season was the grudge match against cross-sector rival Trantor Tech. Reader Peter Sagal points out that Tazenda was a planet entirely converted into a city, every square meter built upon—an idea later lifted by George Lucas for the capital planet of the Skywalker galaxy.

Mark Westfall proposed that TMQ’s reference to the “vast concrete sundial” at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point alluded to the central gizmo in the J.G. Ballard story “Voices of Time.” Mark added, “I wonder about the readers who ace your literary hidems, weren’t these people diagramming wishbone plays or babe-fantasizing during Lit classes like normal Americans?” Hunk fantasizing, Mark—four straight double-X-chromosome TMQ cap winners.

Again the embedded quotes were from the Bard. Jake, from Bard-proximity Scotland, spotted “once more into the breach” from Henry V in the column head, but that was too obvious to earn a cap. A stylish TMQ cap goes instead to Jane Ornstein of Bellevue, Wash., one of many who knew the phrase “to one thing constant never” is found in Much Ado About Nothing. Jane notes the context is to warn women, “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more/ Men were deceivers ever.” Except in touch football, men were receivers ever! Jane vents in haiku,

To one thing constant

Never: Men! Be wary, all

Non-mega-babe fans.

Several readers including Jeff Beckman noted the “constant never” phrase also occurs in Sir Walter Scott. “Jef” noted that Shakespearian mega-babe Emma Thompson once read the line in a Kenneth Branagh production of Ado, when she and Branagh were married; both proved “constant never” to the other. A Google search for the words “Emma Thompson” and “naked” returned 1,630 hits, most of which did not concern her performance in Naked Lunch.

A few readers caught the phrase “twice-told tales” from King John. A second stylish cap to Karen Shaffer of Vero Beach, Fla., for noting this phrase was also used in titles by Hawthorne, Dickens, and the somewhat less-known Julia Holloway, Hans Dieckmann, Jacob Raisin, and Daniel Snell. Reader John adds that Hawthrone’s Twice-Told Tales reference, “the clock, which tells to solitude how time is passing,” surely anticipated Kansas City’s failure to call any time-outs on its last-second drive against Indianapolis.

This Week’s Challenge: There’s a smackerel more embedded Bard, plus several hidden book titles. Find, append clever comment, and submit to “The Fray.” Be sure to include your e-mail in the extremely unlikely event your submission is chosen.