Sports Nut

The Importance of the Incomplete Pass

This year the Houston Texans begin NFL play, helmets adorned with lovely cow-inspired logos. But it’s a globalized world. When will the NFL go international? TMQ has already looked into possible international expansion opportunities. Here are some:

  • The Kiev Chickens. Name alone would justify an international NFL.
  • The Jerusalem Wailers. Uniform colors would be Orthodox all black, and jersey backs would say, “For You, I’m No. 38.”
  • The Kandahar Fanatics. Signs at the stadium gate would proclaim, No One Is Allowed To Enjoy the Game!
  • The European Union Euros. (Regional franchise.) Team symbol would be an imaginary bridge.
  • The Copenhagen Tall Blondes. Fabulous cheerleaders, plus sauna boxes instead of luxury boxes.
  • The New Delhi Wandering Cattle. Opponents would not be allowed to hit them.
  • The Beijing Gang of 11.
  • The Riyadh Corrupt Inbred Royal Parasites. No Saudi would actually play on the team; they’d hire Yemenis and Pakistanis for that.
  • The Dar es Salaam Sheblows. It has nothing to do with what you’re thinking. After scores, fans would holler, “Dar Sheblows!”
  • The Johannesburg Tutus. For this club at the racial vanguard, all kickers would be black and all cornerbacks white.
  • The Kuala Lumpur Geckos. Team owners have notified the league that although playing in Malaysia, they wish officially to be known as the “New York Geckos.” After all, the “New York” Giants and Jets already get away with the same basic swindle.

In other NFL news, the defending champion Ravens are out, taking their hubris with them. TMQ has repeatedly compared Baltimore to Sparta—great defense, humorless, guilty of crimes against civilization.

When Baltimore beat the upright and law-abiding Giants in the Super Bowl last year, TMQ likened it to Sparta’s victory over upright Athens in the Peloponnesian War. When the champs fell to Cincinnati early this season, TMQ compared it to Sparta’s surprise defeat by previously unranked Thebes at Leuctra in 371 BC. Pretty obviously, the termination of the Ravens’ dynasty by Pittsburgh equates to the retreat of Sparta at the hands of Macedon under Alexander the Great. And pretty obviously, that leaves this question—next season will a cap-depleted Ravens be sacked and dismembered, as Sparta was by the Goths? Carolina, Cincinnati, Jax, Houston: Football’s equivalent of the Goths are on your schedule next year, Baltimore, and are circling your camp. The football gods grind the clock slow, but they grind exceeding small.

Historiography note: The never-published afterward to Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire attributes the final dissolution of Rome to the salary cap, which forced the empire to waive veteran legionaries and replace them with rookies from outlying provinces.

Game-by-Game Analysis

Philadelphia at Chicago
TMQ dubs this the Sideways Bowl. Chicago, with the most timid offense in the league, called more sideways action than TMQ has seen since the last time he tried to squeeze over to the best-looking babe at a college party. Down the field, Bears, you are supposed to go down the field. Instead hitch screen, bubble screen, quick out, pitch out, sideways, sideways. The Bears threw deep exactly twice. Now, it’s true both deep throws were intercepted, but this tells you more about Chicago QBs than tactics. Which brings us to an important lesson about offense—the value of the incomplete deep pass.

Drip-drip-drip passing has take over the NFL partly because offensive coordinators reason that since short throws are easier to complete, why not endlessly throw short? About a third of deep throws, on average, are complete, versus about two-thirds for short attempts. (Dallas, with the worst pass completion figure in the league this year, still connected on 51 percent by mainly throwing short.) Overlooked in all this is that the incomplete deep throw forces defenses to respect the long pass, which in turn opens things up for other plays.

While the Bears were throwing deep just twice, the Eagles went deep six times. Result? A 43-yard gain, three incompletions, and two drops, one of which would have been a touchdown. Not much, you say. But these deep shots forced the Bears defenders to back off the short routes, prevented Chicago from choking up against the run, and created an intermediate zone for Donovan McNabb’s scrambles. Philadelphia compiled a 336-186 yardage edge, partly because it kept throwing deep whether completing them or not. Lots of NFL snaps end up wasted. A deep incompletion at least sets up other plays while a short incompletion sets up—nothing.

For their part the Eagles dominated the Bears by blitzing, right? It’s true Philadelphia is the one NFL team to come out ahead this year by frequent blitzing (see below). But against Chicago, the Eagles blitzed seven times on 47 Bears snaps, less than the league average of about 20 percent blitzing. The Eagles may blitz against the Rams—we’ll see. But because Chicago was playing such a dinky sideways game, Philadelphia knew it would be better off dropping LBs into short coverage and leaving the Bears nowhere to throw. Result? For Chicago, 73 yards passing at home.

The Bears did blitz a lot. Two weeks ago, TMQ cautioned that Chicago ran up its league-lowest 12.7 points allowed mainly by blitzing the dickens out of second-echelon opponents. If the Bears “go blitz-wacky against first-rate teams in the playoffs, woe may betide,” spoke the column. Chicago went blitz-wacky and surrendered 33 points.

And Bears fans, you wuz not robbed by the hit on Jim Miller—it was hard but clean. When there is a turnover, the QB becomes a safety, and safeties may be blocked. There are rules granting the quarterback special protection after he releases and when he hook-slides, but no special rule for when the QB becomes a defender. And there is certainly no rule against hard blocks, though several NFL offensive lines seem to believe there is. Quarterbacks are coached for this situation—on turnovers they are supposed to make the tackle if needed, or if not needed, get out of Dodge because they are fair game. Had Miller either run forward to join the action or backward away from it, he could not have been hit so hard. Instead he just stood there, exposing himself to being legally clocked.

Cautionary note: The Eagles have great defense, the great McNabb, pretty good OL, and receivers enhanced by McNabb’s talent field. Oh, if they had a back! Considering Duce Staley’s deteriorating body, the mystery of the offseason was why Philadelphia, poised for a Super Bowl run and with plenty of cap space, did not make a move for a back in free agency or the draft. It didn’t even have to be an expensive move; imagine everything exactly the same except the Eagles now have Priest Holmes or Antowain Smith, both of whom they considered, then sent away. There will be rending of garments and gnashing of teeth by the Rocky statue if Philadelphia falls to St. Louis for want of a power back.

Best Offensive/Worst Defensive Simultaneously: Trailing 14-13, Philadelphia had second and goal at the Bears’$2 6. The Eagles split Duce Staley far right. Trick formations with runners split wide can be ignored if the runners can’t catch. But Staley is an excellent receiver, having scored from this very formation a few weeks ago. The Bears seemed not to know that—don’t they watch film?—and put no one out to cover Staley. Then, realizing the mistake, Chicago defenders began to mill around and point at each other, but no one thought to form his hands into a T and shout, “Timeout!” Touchdown to Staley, and the Eagles take the lead for good.

Philadelphia then wisely followed TMQ’s immutable law, Take One Till the Fourth, by kicking to make it 20-14 rather than gambling for 21-14 and ending up 19-14.

Best Mind-Read: Leading 13-7, Philadelphia faced third and two on its 36. Everyone expects a run. Yet Chicago took out the rush line, pulling its two  Ticonderoga-class DTs, Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, to the sidelines and inserting a nickel defense. Sure enough, the Eagles passed, and McNabb looked so surprised by a nickel in a running situation that he was picked off by a Bear corner who returned it for six. Bears coaches must at least have watched film of what Philadelphia does on third and two.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 1.Trailing 26-17 with 5:24 remaining, Chicago faced fourth and seven on its 36. The Bears punted. There’s no tomorrow, and no BCS rating on margin of defeat. You need two scores. Why are you punting? Why are you punting?

Oakland at New England
Yes, the Raiders wuz robbed. Yet seldom has a team petitioned the football gods for defeat more openly than the Raiders in the fourth quarter on Saturday night. When you leave the keys in the ignition and the car running, don’t come cryin’ that you got robbed.

Oakland had a three-point lead and possession on the Patriots’$2 45 with 3:55 remaining, second and 11. The Raiders were pushing back a tired New England front seven; they had rushed six times for 25 yards on the previous snaps and seemed to be mounting a classic clock-killer drive. Then, it’s a pass! And not a gamble for a long gain to ice the game—a dinky, dunky short swing to lead-handed reserve FB Jon Ritchie, who rarely plays. Incompletion. I looked up and thought, I can’t believe the clock is not moving. Third down? Incompletion.

There followed an exchanged of punts. New England ended up with the ball near midfield, 2:06 left and no timeouts, for the drive that included the unpleasant call and ended on the long tying field goal that barely cleared the crossbar with 35 seconds to play. If on the possession described above, the Raiders had simply plowed the ball into the line for no gain on second and third down, the Patriots would have run out of clock. Ye gods.

Why did Tom Brady catch fire late? In December 2000, New England played at Buffalo in similar driving-snow conditions. For the first three quarters, the P-Individuals ran their normal offense and scored only three points, same as Saturday night. When the fourth quarter arrived, they tossed out the game plan and began throwing on every snap—especially short crosses and short “drags,” plays on which DBs had trouble keeping their footing. New England became unstoppable and won by a figgie in overtime.

Something finally clicked in Patriots play-caller Charlie Weis’ mind late Saturday because as the fourth quarter began, he made the same adjustment he’d made in his previous snow game. The Raiders did not adjust. The counter to what Weis did is “cover one,” having DBs right up on the line to jam receivers, with the safeties back in case someone slips through. Oakland stayed in a soft zone, conceding the short crossing pass, and the Patriots took it play after play.

Raiders fans, TMQ agrees that it was unfair your club never got a possession in OT. The NFL needs to change its overtime system; playoff games should not be decided by only allowing one team a try. But as your car that you left the keys in disappears down the road, don’t complain that it’s unfair because you would have been out sooner if the Starbucks line hadn’t been so long. Lock the car when you have the chance.

Worst Crowd Response: Receiving the unexpected gift of a playoff matchup for the last time ever with the lights on at Foxboro, the home crowd booed the Patriots repeatedly in the first half.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Oakland faces third and seven; it’s a blitz! Six gentlemen cross, easy completion for the first down, touchdown two plays later. Oakland faces third and nine; it’s a blitz! Six gentlemen cross, easy completion for the first down, field goal on the drive. Oakland faces third and 10; it’s a blitz! Six gentlemen cross, easy completion for the first down, field goal on the drive. AllRaider scores came on possessions when New England let Oakland off the hook by big-blitzing on third and long. Two other Patriot blitzes on third and long did work. But that’s just two of five—when the odds favor the defense on third and long in the first place.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 2: Trailing 7-0 with 59 seconds left in the half, New England faced fourth and three on the Oakland 36. The Patriots punted.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 3: Game tied with 22 seconds left, Oakland took possession on its 35 with two time-outs. Remember when Oakland used to amaze the league by passing down the middle with the clock ticking? Two intermediate completions, two time outs, and you’re in range for the league’s highest-paid kicker and the win. Instead the Raiders knelt, and never had possession again.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh
What a show from Ketchup Field, but first let’s get something straight: Pittsburgh only looks like “Blitzburgh.” The Steelers line up 3-4, and a linebacker almost always shoots. But that is not a blitz; it is a four-gentleman rush, the convention throughout the known football universe. If four rushers coming from a 3-4 constitutes a “blitz,” then the Steelers are blitzing on every down, in which case the term becomes meaningless.

To blitz from a 3-4, one must send at least five—same as to blitz from a 4-3. We need terminology for what happens when a 3-4 sends four men but you can’t be sure where the fourth will come from. It’s common to call this a “zone blitz.” but it’s not a blitz: maybe “zone rush.”

At any rate, during the first half Sunday, as Pittsburgh was compiling a 20-3 lead, the Steelers true-blitzed just three times. That’s it—three defensive snaps on which five or more gentlemen crossed the line. (Results: sack, incompletion, and Baltimore conversion of a fourth down.) The Steelers blitzed somewhat more in the second half, for a total of 10 true-blitzes on 51 Baltimore snaps. That’s 20 percent, about the same fraction that all NFL teams true-blitz.

So enough, already, with “Blitzburgh.” More please of Pittsburgh, a fine team having a fascinating season. One point of fascination: Twice against the Ravens, Kordell Stewart got away with intentional grounding. Purists cheered—because it meant he has learned to do the smart thing and get rid of the ball, rather than court disaster. This year it’s been like there was a switch on Stewart’s back that said OUT OF CONTROL/MATURE QUARTERBACK, and someone finally flipped it to the “mature” setting.

Best Line Blocking: Jerome Bettis was hurt, yet the Steelers ran for 154 yards against the supposedly impermeable Ravens. This vindicates the contention from last week’s TMQ that offensive line play is the essence of the top-rated Pittsburgh ground game. TMQ Non-QB/RB MVP guard Alan Faneca of the Steelers did not have a good game, however, giving up a sack and looking lost on some pulls. It’s the come-down effect of a week of glamour and nonstop mega-babes after announcement of the TMQ award.

Best Kick Blocking: Jermaine Lewis was swell on that 88-yard punt return, but watch the tape again—no Steeler touched him owing to great blocking. Special teams have return plays and formations, but they’re hard to discern owing to kicking chaos. Watch the tape; this play forms just like it was drawn.

Best Dancin’ With Them What Brung Ya: Pittsburgh had nine snaps from the Baltimore 10 or closer and ran on all nine against the supposedly impermeable Ravens. Result: 17 points. Running got the Steelers into the game, and they honored sports lore by dancin’ with them what brung ‘em.

In-Depth Media Analysis: At halftime, after Pittsburgh had true-blitzed just three times, Professional Oddity/Could-Not-Have-Been-a-Real-Coach Jerry Glanville shrieked, “Baltimore can’t handle the blitz! Pittsburgh is killin’ Baltimore by blitzing on every down!” Randy Cross somberly agreed that Baltimore’s problem was the Steeler blitz.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 4: Trailing 20-0, defending champion Baltimore faced fourth and goal from the Steelers’$2 8 with a minute in the half. In came the kicking unit. Sure, fourth and goal is a long shot—but so is coming back from a 20-3 halftime deficit on the road against the league’s top-rated defense. Ravens, you are defending champs.Sparta would not have shown fear.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 5: Trailing 27-10 with 8:43 to play, Baltimore faced fourth and three on its 27. In came the punting unit. There’s no tomorrow and no BCS rating on margin of defeat. You need three scores. Why are you punting? Why are you punting?

Green Bay at St. Louis
Phaser burns on the fuselage of the Packers’ charter plane. Photon torpedo damage reported at Lambeau Field. Did anybody get the license number of the starcruiser that hit us? Ye gods, the space aliens of St. Louis toyed with the Packers—and they were toying with a 13-4 team! Let’s hope Green Bay survivors were beamed directly to sick bay.

This time it was the Rams defense—a 383-292 yardage edge for Green Bay, but meaningless in the face of eight turnovers, three returned for scores. New defensive coordinator Lovie Smith has not only transformed the Rams, but has done so without the services of the two first-round draft-pick DLs management gave him. (One hurt, the other nailed to the bench.) Smith spent the offseason preaching “hats” to Rams defenders—good things happen when you put lots of hats on the ball. Why some preachers move the flock and others don’t, TMQ cannot say, but Smith’s preachin’ was taken to heart. On Sunday the Rams gang-tackled and gang-hit as well as any team ever has, multiple hats creating several turnovers and frustrating routine plays.

Sole cautionary note TMQ could think of: The Rams scored their first two offensive touchdowns on regular passes from regular sets at the goal line. This might have worked Sunday, but regular passes from regular sets at the goal line are normally a formula for woe.

Best by a Battery of Space Aliens: It was Rams 24, Packers 10 in the third when bioagent “Kurt Warner” of the Galactic Hegemony (Not Your Father’s Interstellar Conspiracy™) bootlegged right from his 43. He stopped and threw back left across his “body”—at least his holographic manifestation of human form—60 yards in the air and hit fellow space alien “Torry Holt” exactly on the hands at the Packers’$2 7. Sixty yards back across his body. Most Homo sapien athletes can’t puntthat far, let alone throw across their bodies. Holt caught it despite being double-covered, and the Rams scored on the next play to pull away. That Planck’s harmonic wave-packet collapser Warner bought with him on the starcruiser from his homeworld sure is coming in handy.

Worst by a Battery of Homo Sapiens: Scoreless game, Bay of Green facing second and 10 on its 22. The Packers lined up with two double-wides; a Rams safety blitzed from the offensive right; Brett Favre threw a quick hook to Bill Schroeder on the far right; Schroeder ran a hook and up; that left Ram CB Aeneas Williams the only gentlemen present when the ball arrived, and he ran it back for six.

Obviously a missed communication or missed sight-adjustment between Favre and Schroeder; only someone who knows the Green Bay playbook and signal system could say which Packer was to blame. But here’s what made the play so horrible: As Williams caught the pick, Schroeder did not give chase but stood stock-still, waving his hands in theatrical disgust toward Favre. It doesn’t matter that the deep zone was clear because the safety blitzed and that had Favre thrown the up, it might have been a huge gain. What mattered was that Favre is a three-time NFL MVP, irreplaceable, bearer of Green Bay’s hopes. Bill Schroeder is a dime-a-dozen nobody. Dime-a-dozen bodies do not make theatrical gestures of disgust at three-time MVP teammates in playoff games. It’s the sort of thing that leads to blowout losses.

That ends the game-by-game review, except to pause for the Reader Senryu of the Week:

Oh brave Aeneas,
Favre’s your stalwart Achates:
Throws you two TDs.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Achates was the devoted best friend of Aeneas. You knew that, right?

Stats of the Week: After New England took possession trailing by 13-3 with 12:29 remaining, for the balance of the game, the Patriots ran 38 plays for 166 yards while the Raiders ran 14 plays for 34 yards.

Stat No. 2: Baltimore had 226 yards rushing a week ago against Miami, then 22 yards against Pittsburgh. And honestly—can you name any Steeler defensive lineman?

Stat No. 3: Ravens long-snapper Dale Hellestrae has now played in more defeats, 161, than any gentleman in NFL history.

Stat No. 4: The Baltimore defense had given up 19 points in its previous five playoff games before surrendering 27 to Pittsburgh.

Stat No. 5: The St. Louis defense outscored the Green Bay offense. The Rams would have won had their offense not played.

You Can Trust Us Because We’re Lying About Our Honesty: Nextel is saturating the airwaves with commercials featuring Dennis Franz, snarling tough-guy of NYPD Blue. The message of the commercials, in which Franz brags about himself and acts unpleasant to everyone he encounters, seems to be that nasty, self-centered people use Nextel. But what about each commercial’s boast that Franz does not do ads? Should we be impressed that he has agreed to accept a large sum of money in return for lowering his standards?

Specifically, Franz snarls in one spot, “I don’t do commercials. Because they are dishonest—they lie.” Set aside the long-term wisdom of big companies and advertising agencies promoting the notion that big companies lie and commercials should not be believed. I don’t do commercials. But obviously you do! You are snarling this in a commercial. Because they are dishonestthey lie. What’s dishonest here? The claim that Franz doesn’t do commercials. He is the one lying, and the purpose of his lie is to distract viewers from the evident fact that he will sell his reputation for personal profit. Let’s hope the fee was hefty.

Cheerleader of the Week: TMQ was quite favorably impressed when, for the cold-weather Bucs at Eagles game, the Philadelphia cheer-babes wore skin-tight green unitards. Very classy fan-oriented move, plus the temperature had that frisky cold-weather effect on nipples. For this display of dedication and professionalism, Eagles pep squad members are cheerleaders of the week. Check out the abs-of-steel Julie, the priorities-in-order Wendy—whose favorite flick is Coyote Ugly,a movie about the zany, fun-filled lifestyle of bar maids—and getting-her-money’s-worth fitness buff Sabrina. (Click here, then click Julie, Wendy, or Sabrina.) TMQ has walked the streets of Philadelphia and never seen the likes of these babes. They must fly them in.

TMQ Instant Poll! Be sure to take the new Tuesday Morning Quarterback Instant Poll, below.

This Week’s Star Trek Complaint: How come whenever something explodes in front of a Federation ship, bridge-crew characters are seen shielding their eyes from the glare? The bridge view screen isn’t a window, after all, but a monitor. Presumably it would be set to filter any wavelength that harms the eye. It’s not reassuring to think that 200 years from now, Homo sapiens will build ships that exceed light speed but will have forgotten how to make a dimmer switch.

Reader Haiku and Senryu: Submit yours via “The Fray.” Note that two involve readers communicating in haiku, and they are haiku as beaches and tuna are nature. (Parcells is called the Tuna because he snarfs down tuna subs, which count as natural depending on the deli.)

Favre flops for Strahan.

Football gods dispense justice.

six picks, three scores.

Steve PaquinTime was, Wisconsin

Was famous for its six packs

Now it’s for six picks.

—”Mr. Senryu”
’76 flag

sent Raiders to Super Bowl.

No tears for them now.

—Bob Saidi
Parcells in the sun?

Floridians, flee the beach!

Shark is circling.

Is this a result

of devolution? I thought

he was a Tuna.

Robert ShlantaSoon, very soon, will

Steve Spurrier wish he had

stayed put in

Rich MahadyUniverse went splat?

Princeton, home of Institute

for “Advanced” Studies.

—”Yalie Dave”Jeri Ryan’s bod

or football on satellite?

Thank God for TiVo.

—Eric AkawieTo blitz is to err?

Philly’s points allowed: second-

best in NFL.

“Gang Green”Jerry’s a Raider.

TMQ cannot see why?

One king to a throne!

—”Cynical Pinnacle”

Wins Games, Not Friends: Marvin Lewis is a fabulous defensive mind, and now with the Ravens’ defeat, free to negotiate for a head-coach slot. During the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game, CBS announcers expressed amazement that with all the head-coach openings, Lewis’ name was not on any mentioner list, nor had any team contacted the Ravens for permission to speak with him.

This should not surprise anyone who knows recent history. Last year, as the Ravens drove toward the Super Bowl, Lewis was mentioned for several head-coaching posts. All teams with vacancies hired new coaches before the Super Bowl—when it was still verboten to negotiate with Lewis—except the Bills, where GM Tom Donahue, who loves Lewis, kept the job open specifically for him. Two days after the Super Bowl, Lewis was in Buffalo. There, he spent most of his interview complaining about the city, saying his wife didn’t like the schools and expressing ambivalence about the job. Donahue thought it might be Super Bowl come-down, so he waited several days and flew to Baltimore himself to interview Lewis again. Again Lewis said he was ambivalent. Donahue moved on and hired the tastefully named Gregg Williams. Lewis’ agent promptly accused Donahue of racism. And Donahue, whom Lewis’ man denounced, was the only GM in all the league who had reached out to Lewis.

Given this, if you were an NFL GM needing a head coach, would you want to have anything to do with Marvin Lewis?

Sir Paul Update: OK, “She loves you/ yeah, yeah, yeah” wasn’t exactly Coleridge, but on a topic of such moment, it would be nice if McCartney could do slightly better than, “Freedom, talkin’ ‘bout freedom.”

Parcells in True Form: Last Tuesday when Bill Parcells was considered a lock for the Buccaneers job, TMQ listed the many incidences when this gentleman screwed various teams for his own ego’s sake and warned Tampa fans, “Do not lament to the football gods if Parcells turns against you as well.” Who would have thought it would only take a week! Now, led on by Parcells, Tampa is screwed out of Tony Dungy—the only winning coach in franchise history—and screwed out of this year’s playoffs, as the Bucs lost in dispirit in Philadelphia knowing their owner was negotiating with the Tuna. 

Parcells may have jilted Tampa partly for the sheer ego gratification of feeling important enough to get a playoff coach fired, and then walk away. But Hall of Fame politics is the key. First Parcells negotiated with Tampa owner Malcolm Glazer and began contacting other coaches to form his staff. Then the Hall nominations finalists list came out, with Parcells the sole coaching candidate. But active wearers of headsets can’t be selected; if Parcells took the Tampa job, his name would be withdrawn. Parcells wants in to Canton fast, for ego reasons. It would also raise his speaking fee.

Right after the Hall list came out, Parcells turned Tampa down and made another ridiculously insincere statement about how he would never return to coaching. His hope is that the Canton electors, meeting Super Bowl week, will choose him, and then he can take another coaching job and be lauded as the first Hall of Fame coach ever to walk the sidelines. Don’t be shocked if he ends up in the Tampa job anyway. Swearing he would never coach again in order to get voted into Canton, then taking a job—”I had a change of heart,” blah blah—would be classic Parcells since this would allow him to screw the Hall of Fame for his own ego’s sake, too.

Now With More Sugar! Domino’s, whose pizzas are already one of the highest-fat foods in existence, is now giving away with each delivery an order of “CinnaStix,” pizza dough dipped in sugar and then slathered with oil-and-sugar sauce. A dinner consisting of fats and sugar—isn’t it in Domino’s interest that its customers have long lives?

TMQ Insider Exclusive:Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned on an exclusive basis that Bill Parcells is considering becoming secretary of state. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback insider exclusive.

Running Items Department

New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses goes 0-4 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact NFL final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 0-256 this season and 0-516 since TMQ began tracking. Just three chances left to avoid a second consecutive shutout year.

Ever chasing the Times, the Wall Street Journal decided it must even chase what’s wrong with the Times and jumped into the quixotic quest business last week, making its own attempt to predict the exact final score of the weekend’s playoffs. The Wall Street Journal went 0-4. At least it doesn’t try to pick stocks. 

Reader Animadversion: Many readers noted that Indiana University, not University of Indiana, is correct. Quarterback of Tuesday Morning regrets the error.

Regarding the item on scientists asserting that the universe is turquoise, and TMQ noting that to his eye the night sky looks kind of black, Melissa Gray reminds that astronomers haven’t even figured out why the night sky is dark. With billions of trillions of stars in the universe, why isn’t there one in every possible direction, causing the night sky to be light? Yet space is dark even when you’re up in space, astronauts assure us. Read the latest speculation here.

Reader “JRazor” protests that although TMQ blitzes the blitz, the Eagles were blitz-happy this season and compiled great defensive stats. Last season the Giants were the only team that came out ahead by blitzing consistently; this year the Eagles hold that distinction. But that’s the point. They’re the only team that came out ahead by big-blitzing.

Reader “PenelopeS” notes, “How interesting it was to hear the inimitable Keyshawn Johnson being interviewed after the Tampa Bay loss, emphasizing that coach Dungy needed fewer players with big mouths.”

Reader Robin Goodfellow calls the hiring of Steve Spurrier “a stroke of PR genius, for the Persons now have a coach who is capable of making the owner look likable and sympathetic by comparison.”

Reader Chuck looked up TMQ’s bio on the NewRepublic Web site and found it made no mention of this column or sports. He senryuizes,

Gregg’s guilty pleasure,

Hidden from brainiac pals?

TMQ, come out.

Hmmm, maybe I should have George O’Leary update my resume. The NewRepublic does seem to be engaged in a sinister cover-up. “Be proud of what you are, a regular guy,” Chuck advises. My Brookings bio does list me as an expert on “American football”—nice internationalist touch. Close textual analysis shows I am the sole football expert on the Brookings rolodex. Brookings also lists my incredibly cleverly titled new book Tuesday Morning Quarterback, which is new stuff, not a collection of past columns, and is in stores, or you can buy it here.

Reader “Hungry Like a Wolf” offers a late entry for the Hal Rothman Award for devising serious-sounding reasons to gawk at cheesecake. (See last week’s column.) Wolf nominates Houston’s House of Pies, where he recommends the actual cheesecake.

Finally reader Kris Singho asks why TMQ complains about high-school kids jumping into the NBA—all thus far having done so being African-American—while not complaining about white high-school kids turning pro for tennis or figure skating. True, but I didn’t complain about black teens in tennis, either—Venus Williams went pro at 14, for example. My analysis was confined to football and basketball, team sports in which gifted novices traditionally fair poorly, as opposed to highly individualistic tennis and skating, where teen athletes traditionally excel.

Singho suspects TMQ opposes high-school NBA jumps because this converts young black men into instant millionaires. But all the black high-school kids taken in the last NBA draft were fated to become instant millionaires anyway, barring collegiate injury. Having them cash in at 18 rather than 21 or 22 does not increase net income transfers to blacks since when NBA salary cap space is shifted toward teen African-American players, money must be subtracted from the amounts offered to older black athletes.

My objections are three. First, this will harm basketball by driving down the quality of pro play while depriving the college ranks of stars, thus killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. Second, though net payments to blacks will be unchanged, letting high-school kids into the NBA will harm most of those who do this by reducing their lifetime earnings. (A few will thrive ala Kobe Bryant, but most will never become as good as they might have been and never achieve that midcareer monster contract.) Third, it sets a bad example to African-American youth by suggesting college should be skipped. Skipping college is fine for the rare gifted person like Kobe who is fated to become a millionaire anyway, but lack of seriousness about college keeps blacks disadvantaged as a group.

Singho further contends that blacks who play college basketball without pay are being exploited: They should jump to the pros and earn income. Maybe blacks who could make the NBA are being taken advantage of by college no-pay. But the small minority who could make the NBA are usually the same ones for whom future millions are certain anyway. The vast majority of NCAA basketball players, including the vast majority of African-American players, will never make the pros. To them college athletics offers a free higher education. This is exploitation?

Most colleges deserve to be condemned for enabling in athletes the illusion of going pro, rather than insisting players attend class, study, and graduate. Not insisting that college athletes study may represent a form of exploitation since blacks are disproportionately impacted. But this is a form of exploitation African-Americans could end of their own accord, by embracing education and rejecting the young-stud-instant-riches fantasy model.

Sometimes whites get where they are by favoritism or a rigged system; overall, education is the first explaining factor in contemporary economic outcomes. Thus Shane Battier, who walked out of Duke with a diploma and a 3.4 GPA, makes a better role model than a dazed-and-confused high-school kid with a million bucks in his pocket. Battier may be button-down, but young blacks as a group would do more to alter the status quo by emulating him than by emulating Tracy McGrady. TMQ thinks star black basketball players should keep this role-model effect in mind and stay in school. It’s true this creates a pressure for black stars that does not exist for their white counterparts.

Last Week’s Challenge …was to name absurd euphemisms, such as “remediate” for “clean up.”

Tim Lowell suggests “mistake” as euphemism for an outrage or incredible blunder. Everything that goes wrong from the White House to Enron is, “mistakes were made.” After Stephen Ambrose was caught plagiarizing, he called the copied passages “a mistake,” which sounds like spilling coffee, rather than something he should be ashamed of. Similarly, Tony Probst suggests the euphemism “inappropriate” to avoid using words like bad or wrong. (“It was inappropriate that Ambrose made a mistake by stealing someone else’s work.”)

“DLM” suggests the “pre-owned” as a euphemism for used.

Reader “Statute Man” reports that Ohio agencies have begun to refer to prison staff as “providers of correction services.” This carries, he notes, the inference that prisoners are consumers of correction services.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback nominates “detainee.” We are not taking you prisoner; we are merely detainee-izing you. However, you may not become a leavee. TMQ is perfectly happy to have the al-Qaida thugs become consumers of correction services, but they should be called what they are: prisoners.

“Brett V” nominates “experimented,” as in, “Prince Henry experimented with drugs,” suggesting some objective, dispassionate exercise. So Prince, when will you publish the results of your experiment?

“Joe Baby” proposes that the Commission on Decommissioning, the organization charged with collecting weapons from Irish fanatics, has a lovely euphemism name.

Dave Curley nominates “involuntary attrition,” the euphemism Cisco uses in lieu of “layoffs.” When Neil Easterbrook, Official Brother of TMQ and a professor at Texas Christian University, was laid off from a job teaching in a public high school, he was handed a letter informing him that he had been “excessed.”

The stylish TMQ cap is awarded to Nora Greer of Scottsdale, Ariz., for the euphemism “going over the rim.” This is not something the Shadows and Vorlons did at the end of the Babylon 5 serial. Greer once worked in the Fred Harvey hotels on the Grand Canyon south rim. She reports that tourists who plummeted to their deaths from scenic edges of the Canyon were casually referred to by hotel staff as “going over the rim.” The fate is more common than local promoters care to mention: Five tourists fell to their deaths from the south rim in 1998, for example. Presumably the hotels’ main concern was whether the estates would still pay the room charges.

Sci-fi Note: TMQ always loved the alien name Vorlons in Babylon 5. It sounds like the secret ingredient in laundry detergent. These creatures’ starcruisers should have brightly painted messages on the sides: “Now! With added Vorlon!”

This Week’s Challenge … Pittsburgh ran another touch-football-style play in which Kordell Stewart walked away from center as if upset and about to call time, then as Baltimore relaxed, the ball was direct-snapped to Troy Edwards for a 23-yard run. Since Pittsburgh and St. Louis both run these plays, which may require Actor’s Equity cards, a Super Bowl meeting might be fun.

But should quarterback acting plays be legal? Tuesday Morning Quarterback can’t decide. So submit your arguments pro and con to The Fray. The best, determined on a completely arbitrary basis, may receive a stylish TMQ cap. Be sure to include your e-mail in the unlikely event your submission is honored.