New Jersey Resplendent

The stadium scene.
Sept. 19 2000 9:00 PM

New Jersey Resplendent

It would have taken a man with a heart of stone (or, alternatively, any woman) to keep a dry eye watching Dan Marino at his number-retirement night, walking across the field in a business suit rather than pads. Ye gods, that gentleman could throw the football. The question of whether Marino was the greatest quarterback or merely the greatest passer will fuel years of sports-bar arguments conducted over micro-brewed unfiltered half-dark white wheat ale and shots of frozen boysenberry-almond schnapps. But if you were open and wanted the ball to arrive exactly at the center of your sternum in exactly one microsecond—often, even if you weren't open—Marino was your man. Come back again in another life, OK?

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Marino retirement bonus: During the halftime ceremony, Miami shot off so many fireworks that a pall of smoke hung over the ballpark (official name: Your Trademark Here Stadium) as the second half began. The Dolphins took the kickoff and quickly moved for their first touchdown, as Baltimore defenders seemed to have trouble seeing who had the ball.

Monday Night Football complaints below; also, special Dennis Miller gushing praise item.

Best Plays of the Week: Best No. 1. Cleaving to a principle explained in an earlier TMQ—that defenses ignore trick-play decoy receivers (quarterbacks split wide, etc.) unless they have been shown to be able to run real routes and make real catches—the Jets sent cornerback Marcus Coleman, who had never once run out for a pass, in as their Hail Mary target on what was assumed to be a pro forma wasted play from midfield on the final snap of the first half against Buffalo. Sure enough, Bills defenders ignored Coleman as completely as if he'd been the Natural Law Party candidate at a presidential debate. This gentleman sprinted uncovered straight through an ultra-prevent defense composed entirely of backpedaling DBs and leapt for a touchdown as the clock ticked to 0:00.

Best No. 2. Tampa Bay threw for six to SUV-sized lineman Randall McDaniel, who lined up as an eligible receiver in a trick formation and was, in keeping with the rule above, completely ignored. McDaniel officially becomes the slowest player ever to catch an NFL touchdown pass. (Postwar era only.)

Best No. 3. Reaching the Steelers 13-yard line with a few minutes to play, Cleveland did not go pass-wacky but pounded the ball for five straight running plays. The result was that the Browns (Release 2.0) had to settle for a field goal and only a three-point lead, but left so little time on the clock that Pittsburgh bungled its comeback attempt. (See next item.)

Best No. 4. On fourth down at the Indigenous Persons three-yard line, Dallas quarterback Randall Cunningham faked a quick step right, then flipped the ball left to Emmitt Smith. Emmitt Smith is the NFL's all-time touchdown leader among running backs. Yet the Persons seemed to have no idea, not a clue, that he was going to get the ball and bought the fake. You could practically see money-crazed Owner/Twerp Daniel Snyder screaming in his box, "What do you mean I'm not allowed to order players killed!"

Worst Plays of the Week: Worst No. 1. Criticizing the Steelers for botched offense seems at this point a little like criticizing Bill Clinton for his recently announced agreement, on leaving office, to become audition director for Baywatch. Nevertheless we must face the fact that, trailing by three with 35 seconds remaining, Pittsburgh had a first down and a stopped clock at the Cleveland nine-yard line and through substitution confusion and a succession of clock-management snafus, never got a field-goal attempt airborne. The Steelers did look quite formidable with twice the normal numbers of players in to block for the place-kicker as time expired, though.

Worst No. 2. Facing fourth and goal on the Minnesota four and trailing by 14 at the start of the fourth quarter, New England went for it. P-Men coaches kept just six men back to block despite an expect-the-blitz down-and-distance; the Vikings blitzed, and Drew Bledsoe was immediately sacked. Later, facing fourth down with two minutes to play and now trailing by eight—if they'd taken that FG, it would have been five—the Patriots again kept just six in to block on a blitzing down. Another instant sack.

Worst No. 3. After hitting Randall McDaniel with the trick touchdown pass in the first half, Tampa tried the same thing in the same situation in the second half. The term "element of surprise" includes the word "surprise." The result of the play can be summarized with the technical term "clang."

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