Sports Nut

I’m Pickin’ Up Good Vibrations!

Real football is about to fold its tent and steal into the desert for that long, lonely offseason during which you are expected to do chores, attend cultural events, read the classics, and engage in spiritual growth—rather than sit drinking beer and watching ill-tempered gentlemen collide on the tube. But there is still hope: vibrating football. It’s a game that can be played anytime, and its popularity is rising. The Super Bowl of the Electric Football League was held in Memphis, Tenn., last weekend at the Marriott East Hotel. Hundreds of vibrating football zealots gathered. Zealots of vibrating football, I mean—they were not themselves vibrating, in most cases.

About 10 years ago Mike Landsman, a former toy salesman, started Miggle Toys to manufacture updated versions of the vibrating football sets of baby boomers’ youths—boards that shake teams of 11 plastic figurines. Landsman is now commissioner of the Electric Football League, which has caught on enough that you must form a conference and compete to enter your board in the annual playoffs, where aficionados dressed in zebra uniforms supervise games. (This  site shows the championship brackets and even allows you to calculate quarterback ratings for vibrating QB figurines.)

You can now buy players in the colors of any NFL team and many college teams, plus jersey numbers that allow you to simulate the squads of any era (the 1970s Cowboys, for example). You can buy a to-scale Jumbotron scoreboard and a deluxe lighted stadium for simulating night games. Best of all, you can buy magnetic-base sideline figures to decorate your set—or your desktop, where TMQ has some. There are zebras (including a ref in authentic white cap), cameramen, air-headed-looking reporters, distressed-looking coaches, scowling owners about to fire the coach figurines, and miniature cheerleaders in blond, brunette, and African-American. Naturally, TMQ went with the blond.

This year’s ELF Super Bowl was won by Ron Bell, an assistant district attorney for New Orleans, who had won “the prestigious Miggle Trophy” two previous years. So they sit around in the New Orleans DA’s office plotting vibrating football tactics: Well, it’s better than devising new theories of the Kennedy assassination. Bell defeated Bruce Watts of Columbus, Ohio, by a final of 22-12.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback attempted to contact Bell for a post-game interview but was unable to reach him. That’s just as well, as it creates license for this totally imaginary interview:

TMQ: Do you run the West Coast Offense™?
Bell: The players are only inches apart. All passes are short.
TMQ: Do you blitz a lot?
Bell: Everybody’s coming on every down. Plastic figurines cannot back-pedal.
TMQ: How do you handle disciplinary problems, such as a plastic Randy Moss that only plays when it’s in the mood?
Bell: When a player becomes a disciplinary problem, I cut him.
TMQ: Place him on waivers?
Bell: No, cut him in half with a pair of scissors. It gets the attention of the other players.
TMQ: Do you find yourself gawking at the cheerleader figurines? They may only be 4 centimeters high, but they are quite scantily attired by the standards of toys.
Bell: I prefer tall women.
TMQ: As a three-time ELF champion, what’s your advice to the Rams and Patriots in the Super Bowl?
Bell: Clean your bases before the game. Be sure everyone’s paint matches; this makes a good impression. Face all players in the right direction. When the receiver is open, hit him in the back with a piece of felt.

In other NFL news, it’s sunset for the West Coast Offense™. Though half the league’s teams now play the West Coast Offense™, note that only one Westie club made the championship round. Pittsburgh and the Patriots got where they were using a power game while the Rams employed the sui generis Spiral Arm Offense brought from Kurt Warner’s homeworld on the opposite side of the galaxy. Philadelphia was the sole West Coast survivor. The West Coast approach isn’t fresh anymore; defenses now know what to do when they see it. TMQ expects that in the next few years, West Coast Offense™ theory will blur into all other offenses and disappear.

Game-by-Game Analysis

New England at Pittsburgh
He signed a contract with the Devil and made a shocking arrangement with the picture of Dorian Gray. Kordell Stewart just forgot to read the fine print and ensure the arrangements did not expire before Feb. 3. Cover-your-eyes awful most of his career, this year Stewart played mature, fabulous football. Then on Sunday, poof! He turned back into Kordell Stewart.

Pittsburgh trails 24-17, faces third and eight at its 35 with three minutes left. There’s a man open and—awful, horrible pass intercepted. The defense gets the ball back with just 39 seconds run off the clock, and now it’s second and 10 near midfield, not yet to the two-minute warning, home-crowd energy, and—awful, horrible pass to a doubled receiver, intercepted, game over.

Ye gods, Stewart was awful, yet bear in mind that the football gods punish teams that fail to dance with them what brung ‘em. Some dull, dependable guy asks you to the dance, picks you up in a washed car, buys you a nosegay. Inside the dance hall there’s a flashy guy who gives you a line. If this guy is so great, why doesn’t he have his own date? Why not stay true to the one what brung ya?

Pittsburgh came into the game first-ranked in NFL rushing; New England, 19th-ranked against the run. Yet the Steelers threw 42 times and rushed 22 times. The run wasn’t going well—8 yards in nine carries for Jerome Bettis. But the run often starts off poorly; you must stay with it. (The Rams ran poorly in the first half against Philadelphia but stayed with the run; Marshall Faulk ended up with 159 yards on the ground.) And Bettis, who hadn’t played in almost two months, was obviously not ready. Where was power-running understudy Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala, who played so well last week against the highly ranked Ravens’ front seven? Zero carries, as Bettis stumbled.

As for New England, TMQ wants some of whatever vitamins they feed the Patriots quarterbacks. Obviously it’s in the vitamin-B group since Brady and Bledsoe are interchangeably fearless.

When the Pats made their last Super Bowl run five years ago, the New England defense almost miraculously went from mediocre to indomitable down the stretch. Same phenomenon again. But that club also relied on turnovers and special-teams plays to win its AFC championship—in the 1997 title game, the Patriots were outgained by opponent Jax, the New England margin of victory being a kick fumble and a blocked kick. Sound familiar? Turnover luck never lasts, and New England lost the subsequent Super Bowl. For sheer pluck, though, these Pats are hard to top.

You’ll Just Have To Believe Me on This One: Scoreless game, Pittsburgh had just had a beautiful 64-yard punt called back because gunner Troy Edwards ran out of bounds of his own accord. (When a high first-round pick, which is what Edwards is, has been reduced to the gunner role on punts, perhaps your scouting department should be audited by Arthur Andersen.) On the Pittsburgh re-kick, at the snap TMQ saw something he has neverseen: Both gunners broke inside. That is, both abandoned their jobs—lane control—in order to avoid getting hit with another flag for going out of bounds. Seeing both gunners cut in, a very weird sight, TMQ exclaimed, “This is going to be a huge return!” Troy Brown, 55 yards for the touchdown.

Little Things Matter: Scoreless game, Kordell Stewart is about to be dragged down for a safety. Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB/RB MVP guard Alan Faneca peels back and knocks the tackler off Stewart, allowing him to get out of the end zone.

Ignore That Guy in the Tight Jeans and Spangled Shirt, Dance With Them What Brung Ya: Patriots 7, Steelers 3 in the second, Pittsburgh third and two at midfield. The top-ranked rushing team will power-run, right? Instead it’s a trick play—shotgun formation, no RB on the field, two receivers in the backfield, pitch to Hines Ward for a loss. As the New England defenders trotted off, you could see the look of amazement in their eyes—they’re afraid to run straight at us! Better, much better, to try in this situation and fail than to go gimmick.

Worst Defensive Play by a No. 1-Ranked Defense No. 1: Leading 7-3, New England had first and 10 on the Pittsburgh 11 with a minute in the half. Two WRs lined up right, and a third WR came motion right. Four Pittsburgh defenders stood across from them. But though four gentlemen are available to guard three, David Patten cuts uncovered to the flag, touchdown.

Worst Defensive Play by a No. 1-Ranked Defense No. 2: Leading by a touchdown with six minutes left, New England faced third and 11. The Steelers rushed just three, the Pats kept in seven blockers, meaning eight gentlemen to guard three receivers. Yet Troy Brown, New England’s best WR, is covered only by a linebacker as he catches for the first. The Pats had to punt on the drive, but killed enough clock owing to this conversion that when Pittsburgh got the ball back, Stewart was nervous.

True Patriots Fear Not Linens: About those “terrible” towels—sure, they look colorful when waving. But do fans seriously think the visiting team is afraid of towels?

Philadelphia at St. Louis
A rule of NFL life is that the further you get into the playoffs, the more the zebras allow. Holding, late hits—I didn’t see anything, did you? Refs don’t want to decide playoff games. Never was that principle more clearly on display than on the decisive down of this game.

Philadelphia trails by five and faces fourth and seven at midfield with 1:55 left. Eagle Freddie Mitchell runs a crossing route, chased by Ram Aeneas Williams. Donovan McNabb throws a perfect pass. Williams, a smart 11-year veteran who knows the zebras won’t toss yellow in this situation unless they absolutely have to, shoves Mitchell in the back with both hands as the ball approaches and makes the interception.

Never mind that the talks-ceaselessly-but-rarely-looks-at-the-field John Madden and the can’t-retire-soon-enough Pat Summerall make no mention of this obvious foul. Never mind that Fox switched immediately to shots of the Rams celebrating and away from replays of the game’s deciding play. Purists have long since given up expecting Madden-Summerall-Fox to pay attention to anything other than hype. (Did they praise Marshall Faulk 25,000 times or 35,000? Yet someone must have been blocking for him, eh?) Never mind that on fourth down, the defender should knock the ball down, not attempt an interception, and neither announcer seemed aware of this. The essence of the moment was Andy Reid’s face. His stack did not blow; he just rolled his eyes. Reid’s been around and knows the score: Refs do not decide playoff games unless given absolutely no choice. But if it’s illegal during the regular season, as the Williams move was, it should be illegal during the playoffs, too.

Honestly, How Many Rams Linemen Can You Name? Both St. Louis lines had excellent games. This team isn’t just flash—it is good in the trenches, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if some announcer, at some point, notes that Warner and Faulk don’t block for themselves and Isaac Bruce doesn’t stuff the run?

Rams leading 22-17 with 12 minutes left, Philadelphia gets the ball on its 15. First down, Grant Wistrom sacks McNabb. Second down, Rams swarm stops run for short gain. Third and long, McNabb escapes the pocket and seems on his way to a first; Wistrom, a lineman, runs him down from behind. The punt gives St. Louis the ball near midfield, and a touchdown on the short-field possession provides the winning margin.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Trailing 13-10, the Eagles faced third and short on the Rams’$2 17 with a minute left. It’s a blitz! Six gentlemen cross the line, 10-yard completion. On the next snap, the Rams blitz seven and get an incompletion. On the next snap, the Rams blitz six: touchdown, Philadelphia. Big blitzes on three consecutive plays, resulting in a first down, incompletion, and a touchdown.

Why Didn’t They Pull the Goalie? The Eagles trailed 29-24 with 12 seconds left and the Rams punting from their 31. The previous St. Louis punt had come within inches of being blocked. It was do or die, so why didn’t Philadelphia send all 11 after the kicker? Instead the Eagles set up for a return, Brian Mitchell got only to his 35, and the hook-and-ladder failed on the final snap. TMQ wonders, has anyone ever seen a football pulled-goalie—all 11 rushing the punt? Reply via “The Fray.”

Décolletage of the Year: The impressively three-dimensional Rams cheerleaders not only wore very low-cut two-piece numbers but sprayed gold glitter into their cleavage. Fox, network of Temptation Island, had the good sense to show numerous shots of this dedicated display of babe professionalism.

Stats of the Championship Round. Stat No. 1: New England won despite being outgained and committing 12 penalties.

Stat No. 2: This season Pittsburgh scored 19 rushing touchdowns at Ketchup Field while allowing just one, and yet lost the championship mainly on bad rushing stats.

Stat No. 3: New England blitzed 14 times, and Pittsburgh blitzed 13 times. Though announcers repeatedly described both teams as blitzing like mad, the figures reflect the league average of blitzing on about 20 percent of offensive snaps.

Stat No. 4: Philadelphia, which actively boasts of blitzing like mad, blitzed 14 times on 67 St. Louis offensive snaps or 21 percent, the league average.

Stat No. 5: Kurt Warner averaged 9.7 yards per pass attempt against the Eagles blitz, versus 4.9 yards per attempt when the Eagles were in straight coverage.

Stat No. 6: Eagles coaches did not call a single bootleg or quarterback draw for the most talented QB runner in the sport. Even on the final, season-ending drive, McNabb stood static in the pocket as if trying to imitate—Kordell Stewart.

TMQ Approves of Blitzing al-Qaida: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who’s nuts about football—her Dad taught her to play when she was 4—told Oprah Winfrey’s magazine: “I find football so interesting strategically. It’s the closest thing to war. What you’re really doing is taking and yielding territory.” Listen to the interview here.

The publication is officially titled O, the Oprah Magazine. This means you’re supposed to stop at the newsstand and say, “Got the latest O, the Oprah?”Everyissue without fail has Oprah on the cover—she put herself on the cover rather than Rice, arguably the most powerful black woman in American history. TMQ thinks the official name should be Oprah Winfrey’s Oprah Winfrey Magazine Featuring Oprah Winfrey.

Publishing industry note: TMQ is hoping for a new mag called Tina Brown’s Silence.

Dan Snyder Urges Virgin Records To Sign Jeff George: EMI/Virgin Records waived Mariah Carey for salary-cap reasons, swallowing $49 million in penalties for pro-rated bonuses. League sources said the record label planned several losing seasons as it built up younger, cheaper talent for an eventual Top 40 run. Carey is expected to support herself by going from stadium to stadium, accepting donations to sing “Lovin’ You” during timeouts.

Arthur Andersen Called It $17.9 Billion: Dennis Green, Marty Schottenheimer, and George Seifert will receive up to a total of $17.9 million for being fired.

Astronomy Note: Seifert has nothing to do with Seyfert galaxies, deep-space galaxies that emit so much more light than the Milky Way that night skies on planets in these galaxies are bright. Look here for a disturbing prediction that our Milky Way will evolve into a Seyfert galaxy. If nights become bright from starlight, how will teen-agers of the future neck?

Danger, Will Robinson! Fox is promising a Super Bowl pre-game “very special salute to America.” Stay well clear.

Reader Haiku and Senryu: Submit via The Fray; it’s now or never for the current season. One concerns the fact that Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons coach Marty Schottenheimer, criticized for being his own GM while hiring relatives, has been replaced by Steve Spurrier, who wants to be his own GM and has already hired relatives.

Fans wave their towels;
Mood turns from delight to dire;
Towels now wipe tears.
Daniel WhiteCross plus Ditka plus
Prime Time on CBS makes:
Glanville appealing.
Boston Gamecock”No Persons GM.
Staff of lackeys and a son.
Is this deja vu?
“Mattduke”Rush four from 3-4
defense: ‘Tis daintier than
blitz, call it a “spritz.”
—Robert Shlanta

Tragically, Moments After Publication, the Cat Was Run Down by a Car, Backed Over by a Bus, Eaten by a Dog, Drowned in a Well, Thrown From a Skyscraper, Struck by Lightning, Crushed Under a Falling Wall, Hit by a Meteorite, and Swallowed Up in an Earthquake: A recent Sports Illustrated cover story, illustrated by a photo of a black cat, delved into whether there really is an SI cover jinx. Conclusion? Over the mag’s nearly half-century of publication, 37 percent of cover subjects suffered a “measurable and relatively immediate” calamity after the issue came out, including severe injuries, painful defeats, personal tragedies, and in at least two cases, death. SI has even jinxed its own jinx. After picking the Bills twice in their first two Super Bowls, the cover before the third proclaimed, in block type, BAD NEWS, BUFFALO. FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR, DR. Z PICKS THE BILLS TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL.

Check here for one last gawk at the 2001 SI swimsuit babes before the new annual cheesecake issue comes out. Hey, it’s athletics—they’re wearing swimsuits! Future historians will surely want to study the swimsuit archive, which offers the famous “call the plays” shot from the 1997 bikini beach volleyball game (go here, then click the fourth thumbnail on the left) and Heidi Klum  in nothing but body paint.

Dual Plug of the Week: TMQ was the guest (standards are slipping!) on NPR’s goofy game show Wait, Wait—Don’t Tell Me! last weekend. You can listen to the segment by going here, then clicking on “Not My Job.” You’ll hear witty, urbane, stunningly handsome babe-magnet host Peter Sagal (he booked me, I must suck up to him—plus he’s a past entrant in the TMQ Challenge) declare that “a single column of Tuesday Morning Quarterback contains more humor and insight than the entire two years of Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football.” Which is a compliment … I think. You’ll also hear the dashing, charming Sagal plug my incredibly cleverly titled book Tuesday Morning Quarterback, which is new stuff, not a collection of past columns, and which is in stores, or you can buy it here.

Sadly, left on the editing-room floor was this exchange, which happened during taping when host Peter Sagal tripped over that tricky phrase sui generis, pronouncing the sui as “Sue”:

PETER SAGAL: … had actually described him as sui generis,and …
TMQ: I used to date Sue Generis. But she turned out to be just like all the other girls.

To find the regular air time of Wait, Wait—Don’t Tell Me! in your area, go here, then hit “where to listen.”

TMQ Instant Poll! Don’t forget to click on the incredible instant poll below.

Click to view answers

We’ve Got Some Great Specials Tonight. I Will Decide for You: Last week the Agence France-Presse wire moved a photo showing United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan leaning over to whisper into the ear of Pervez Musharraf, military ruler of Pakistan. Gen. Musharraf was in martial dress with ribbons. If you looked very closely, you saw he was also wearing a name badge that read, PERVEZ.

The ruler of a country needs a nametag? Does George W. Bush wear a nametag in the White House in case there’s some confusion about which George Bush he is? And Musharraf (his family name) might have seized power in a military coup and immediately cancelled elections, but hey, he’s a first-name kind of guy.

“Hi! My name is Pervez, and I’ll be your dictator this evening!”

Dan Snyder Proposes “Good Will” Deficit Spending: AOL Time Warner is expected to announce as much as a $60 billion write-off in admission that the “good will” the companies claimed as an accounting intangible on the day of their merger does not, in fact, exist. Sixty billion dollars worth of “good will”? Not even Arthur Andersen would believe that! Correction: For a fee, Arthur Andersen would believe anything.

Though any increment of honesty in corporate accounting seems an invigorating idea, TMQ asks, exactly what good will does anyone remember from the news that AOL and Time Warner were combining? Shareholders of AOL were furious since the deal benefited corporate insiders but clobbered common stock. (AOL common is now worth less than half of what it was before consummation; the combined companies’ valuation fell by $56 billion between announcement of the merger and completion, almost as much as the $63 billion that vanished at Enron; TMQ owned no AOL, in case you were wondering.) Consumers of Web and cable services were furious, as price competition declined. Employees of both companies were furious, as layoffs followed. Readers and viewers were furious, as the new venture seems committed to global dumbing-down. Where was even $1 worth of actual good will created by the AOL Time Warner fender-bender?

He’s a Casual Dictator and Postmodern: At his meeting with Annan, Gen. Musharraf actually said, “Pakistan is functioning in the most democratic manner that this nation has ever seen. The negative is that I’m not elected.”

Hockey Teams Need One Simple Goal: TMQ opened the home page of Illinois Sen. Pete Fitzgerald the other day and was greeted by this:

“I have a simple goal: to work hard and remember, at every step, what a privilege it is to serve the people of Illinois.”
—U.S. Senator Peter G. Fitzgerald

That’stwo simple goals!

Next Week She Goes to Ottumwa, Iowa, and Walks Around Dressed Like Xena: In one of the all-time any-excuse-to-use-the-word-sex stories, USA Today had babe reporter Olivia Barker fly to Peoria, Ill., to see what would happen if she wandered around “dolled up like a trollop,” specifically, dressed like Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City.So Barker went into the Peoria Steak ‘N’ Shake wearing 4-inch wedge platforms, a very short skirt, and a see-through white tank top over a black bra; she went into the Jubilee Café wearing a strapless cocktail dress and bent forward a lot. Her shocking findings? Men stared at her breasts; women said her look was “a little risqué for Saturday morning.” Priceless non-sequitor: Barker takes her miniskirt and bouncing boobs to a Peoria bowling alley, where she interviews “Kevin Hamilton, 27, a financial consultant with a shaved head and a hoop piercing each ear.”

Who’s Paying Those Refs Anyway? The League—That Proves It! After the Brady fumble reversal, Oakland exec Al LoCasale declared darkly, “Suspicious calls are disproportionate against the Raiders.” LoCasale claims the league is trying to retaliate against Al Davis. Who better to retaliate against, considering Davis’ hobby is trying to destroy the NFL through litigation?

But while the Raiders whine, Patriots fans complain so much about officials being prejudiced against them that after the Brady non-fumble, ran an article headlined, “New England Finally Gets a Call.” Steelers fans claim the refs are out to get them, based on the bungled Thanksgiving overtime coin-flip. Giants fans claimed the refs were out to get them at this year’s Rams game. Packers fans still haven’t stopped talking about the fumble no-call that cost them a playoff game against the Niners. Buffalo is convinced the refs are out to get its team, based on the Music City Miracle no-flag and a series of suspect calls that cost the club a recent playoff game at Miami. The Bucs blame officials for their loss of the NFC championship two years ago. Jax coach Tom Coughlin blows his stack at the zebras so often it’s a wonder the league does not order him caged.

All NFL teams can’t be victims of officiating bias.

College Aside: Why has Penn State had two off years? Because it’s been lining up like a vibrating football set. Check any Nittany Lions game tape from this season or last—the receivers and slot backs are in a goofy bent-forward arms-akimbo stance that looks exactly like the posture of an electric football figurine. No wonder Penn State seemed to be kinda shakin’ from side to side instead of marching down the field.

Fabulous Wrapper-Up Wraps It Up: Tuesday Morning Quarterback got a little misty last summer on the news that mike man Jessie Tuggle of the Falcons has taped his ankles for the last time. Tuggle entered the NFL undrafted from a small school, Valdosta State, and became one of the best tacklers ever, with an imposing 12 straight seasons of at least 100 stops.

Purists will tell you that after, perhaps, the secondary block (when a player knocks down his man and doesn’t just stand there but sprints toward the ball and knocks down somebody else), the clean tackle is football’s least appreciated moment. Tuggle was a master. He wrapped up ball-carriers so well that Hallmark could have slapped on decorative ribbons. Tuggle’s modest background proves that hard work is the essence of achievement, and the fact that he accomplished so much at the ordinary human size of 5 feet 11 inches, 235 pounds is testament to effort. Tuggle also honored sports lore by playing his entire career with the same team when he might have thrown in one extra season in unfamiliar colors, so the memory of his greatness will belong to Atlanta alone. First ballot Hall of Fame, please.

Decent Guy Wraps It Up: The big retirement this year will be Bruce Matthews, a first-ballot Canton lock. (OK, in physical terms Tony Siragusa is the “big” retirement.) But TMQ also got a little misty for the last snap of Phil Hansen, Bills DE.

A second-round pick from little North Dakota State, Hansen never made the Pro Bowl, but ended his career with more sacks and more starts than any defensive linemen taken before him in the 1991 draft, including first-overall selection Russell Maryland, who was extensively hyped. Hansen played one of the best games ever by an NFL defender in Buffalo’s comeback from a 35-3 deficit against Houston in the 1993 playoffs, recording 11 solo tackles—a huge number for a DL—many downfield. Performing well in three straight Super Bowl losses, each time afterward he said he was grateful just to have had the chance to try. Hansen honored sports lore by playing his entire career with the same team when he might have thrown in one extra season in unfamiliar colors, so the memory of his greatness will belong to Buffalo alone. Last week he wrote a letter to the Buffalo News, thanking the city’s fans for cheering him. With an ever-increasing number of athletes departing with middle fingers extended, the football gods must have smiled.

Hidden Indicator: Both losing teams Sunday rushed exactly 22 times. This is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider’s understanding of the game. Unfortunately, Tuesday Morning Quarterback has no idea what it means.

Running Items Department

New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses goes 0-2 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 0-258 this season and 0-518 since TMQ began tracking. There was rending of garments and gnashing of teeth on 43rd Street, as it was Times predicted: Rams 29, Eagles 20, and the Rams did score 29, but the Eagles put up 24. Just one chance left for the Multicolored Lady to avoid a second consecutive shutout year.

Enviously emulating the silliest thing about the Times, both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post attempted to predict the exact final scores of this weekend’s NFL games. Needless to say, the papers combined to go 0-4.

Reader Animadversion: The league tacked a $35,000 fine on Hugh Douglas of the Eagles for clocking Jim Miller of the Bears. By the Hammer of Grabthar, Jim Miller, you are avenged! Reader “Bmac” writes, “I was wondering where I could send my contribution to the Hugh Douglas defense fund, then imagine my chagrin when I found out he had hit JimMiller, not Dennis Miller as I had hoped!”

Now it turns out there is a special rule about clocking quarterbacks during turnovers:

Rule 12, Section 2, Article 11, Paragraph 7: Passer Out of the Play
A passer who is standing still or fading backwards after the ball has left his hand is obviously out of the play and must not be unnecessarily contacted by the defense through the end of the play or until the passer becomes a blocker, or until he becomes a runner upon taking a lateral from a teammate or picking up a loose ball, or, in the event of a change of possession on the play, until the passer assumes a distinctly defensive position. [Italics added.]

TMQ had never heard of this rule and neither, apparently, had the zebras working the Bears-Eagles game since they threw no flag. Miller did not assume “a distinctly defensive position”—he just stood there—and so should not have been hit.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback wonders why Douglas is being fined, but not the officials who failed to throw a flag, thus harming the Bears’ hopes. Sometimes there are post-facto fines regarding judgment calls: The zebra on the scene doesn’t think a hit is excessive, and the league later rules differently. People can disagree about judgment calls. But lack of a flag for the Douglas hit on Miller was strictly a matter of knowing the rules. Officials are paid to know the entire rulebook, not just common calls. The zebra crew should pay half of Douglas’ fine.

Speaking of rules, back to the Brady fumble reversal. Maybe the referee did correctly interpret the rule as worded. But if so, the rule should be changed because that was totally, completely, utterly, and obviously a fumble.

Reader “Goathead” notes a fun implication. If anytime the passer’s arm starts forward and then the ball comes out, it is an incomplete pass, as the NFL repeatedly said after Brady, then couldn’t a quarterback escape from a sack or avoid intentional grounding by starting to throw and then just letting go of the ball? According to the league’s Brady statement,

Citing Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2 of the NFL rulebook, [Chief of officials] Mike Pereira noted that whenever the quarterback moves his arm forward to pass and the ball ends up coming out, it is a forward pass and not a fumble.

Whenever the quarterback moves his arm forward to pass and the ball ends up coming out—“whenever” would seem to cover even deliberate ball-drops to avoid sacks. Let’s change this rule.

For the item praising the professionalism of the skin-tight-unitard-clad Eagles cheerleaders, reader Joe, after close visual analysis of their site, protested that I failed to point out one mega-babe, getting-her-money’s-worth fitness buff Dana. Go here, then click on the Dana thumbnail.

Finally, the item noting that Reliant Field, soon-to-be home of the Texans, advertises that luxury box occupants will attend a “special pre-game buffet” and then enjoy “fine in-suite” dining ended by asking, “just how much do people in Houston eat?” Reader “Vepxistqaosani” replies that Men’s Fitness magazine named Houston the nation’s “fattest city” for the second year running. A reader senryuizes,

Houstonians eat
how much? TMQ asks. Town:
Number-one fattest.
—”Mike D”

This gives the lie to the recent Simpsons episode in which Springfield is chosen as the fattest city and Homer celebrates by proclaiming, “Take that, Milwaukee!” But Houston is actually the fattest city. By the Hammer of Grabthar, Milwaukee, you are avenged.

Last Week’s Challenge … was to argue whether the league should allow quarterback acting plays, such as those used by Pittsburgh on Sunday, in which the quarterback walks away from center apparently in distress and about to call time, then the ball is snapped.

Several readers, including Wes of Miyazaki, Japan, noted that these deceptions are reminiscent of the fabled “new ball” play seen at the high-school level. A team approaches the line, with everyone set and motionless but the linemen not down in stance. (Linemen are not required to take a stance; they just can’t move once they do.) The quarterback says loudly, “Can I see that ball? We need a new ball.” The center picks up the ball and hands it to the quarterback, who begins to walk toward the sidelines, where his coach is waving and calling, “Here’s a new ball!” As soon as the quarterback has strolled sideways past the nucleus of the defense, he takes off running down the field—because in fact the center has hiked him the ball, and there’s no rule that says his teammates can’t stand around doing nothing.

Plays like this don’t work unless you warn the refs about them in advance so that zebras do not get confused and step in. Here’s a wonderful example from a Northwestern University game a few years back. (I can’t remember against whom; someone surely must—note it in The Fray.)

Northwestern plans a trick punt in which, as soon as the punter gets the ball, he fires a pass toward one of the gunners; the point is to draw pass interference and a first down since gunners are always elaborately blocked at the line, which is legal on punts but interference on a pass. Refs are told this beforehand so they’ll get the trick. The ball is snapped. But for some reason the punter, rather than firing at a gunner near the sidelines, rears back and throws heave-ho down the center of the field. No pass interference, the ball is uncatchable!

Now the scene switches to the punt returner. He sees the ball sailing toward him but does not realize it’s a pass rather than a punt. If he fields it, he gets an interception. If he simply lets it hit the turf, his team takes possession at the line of scrimmage owing to a failed fourth down. What does he do? Signals fair catch. Shags the ball, hands it to the official, and walks away. The warned-in-advance zebra alertly drops the ball to the ground because he’s just been handed a live ball; officials are obliged to do everything possible to avoid contact with live balls. And the ref is “part of the field,” which makes this a—fumble! Northwestern recovers.

Back on the Challenge subject, most readers argued for continuing to allow quarterback acting plays on the grounds that they are fun and entertaining. Reader Barb wanted the regulatory solution of permitting them within the framework of a quarterback-acting rule that would, say, explicitly prohibit unbuckling chinstraps. Reader Michael wanted quarterbacks to be allowed to be actors on the field, but actors forbidden from pretending to be quarterbacks, citing the cringe-worthy Keanu Reeves in the dreadful football flick The Replacements. Reader Rob wanted quarterbacks forbidden from being actors off the field, citing Brett Favre’s cringe-worthy cameo in There’s Something About Mary.Bob Hurst generalized that all quarterback Actor’s Equity card instances have been awful—Joe Namath in CC and Company, Terry Bradshaw in CannonballRun, Joe Kapp in The Longest Yard, and Dan Marino in Ace Ventura. Does anyone know of a quarterback who ever did a good job of actual acting? Other than Marino’s Isotoner commercials, which made me really believe he wears winter gloves in Miami.

The stylish TMQ cap goes to Robert Atkins of Bryan, Texas, for suggesting that in the next wave of these plays, a quarterback will clutch at his chest, scream, “My heart! Doctor!” and then the ball will be snapped.

This Week’s Challenge … “He’s one of the most underrated players in the league, Clint.” To TMQ it seems that being underrated is an absolute state, like being unique; there cannot be degrees of underratedness. But if there are most-underrated players, then there must be least-underrated players.

This season’s final Challenge is to name the person—in football or elsewhere—who truly is most-underrated. Submit via The Fray with witty reasoning, in hopes of a stylish TMQ cap and bearing in mind that the decision will be completely arbitrary. Be sure to include your e-mail address in the unlikely event your submission is chosen.

TMQ One-Paragraph Super Bowl Preview: It’s the Patriots vs. the space aliens. Let’s call it Super Bowl ID4. Which side are you on, that of humanity or silicon-based life forms from a Seyfert galaxy?

TMQ Season Finale: Next week’s column will appear on Monday morning, right after Super Bowl XXXVI, posting at about IX Eastern. Read it to find out:

  • Will the football gods cause it to snow for the Patriots inside the Superdome?
  • Will a lineman rip off “Kurt Warner’s” face, revealing his hideous alien form?
  • Can a certain New York newspaper ever predict an exact final score?
  • Can Jessica Biel ever keep her shirt on?
  • What is Canada’s sinister plan for world dominion?
  • What happened to Gorzon’s attack cruiser fleet, huh?
  • Who will commit the Single Worst Play of the Super Bowl?

Don’t miss the astonishing Season Finale of Tuesday Morning Quarterback!