[ Note: This column was written before yesterday's events and held for obvious reasons. ]
When TMQ looks at the pro sports scene, he sees this: Major League Baseball in financial bedlam so bad, whole franchises may fold. Hockey bouncing from network to network in search of anyone who wants to watch. NBA ratings in free-fall, with the brilliant master plan to let high-school kids loose on the court. Of the major pro team sports, only football is smokin'. Strong ratings, No. 1 in poll popularity, consecutive attendance records.
So why is the National Football League searching for a way to screw things up?
Tuesday Morning Quarterback refers, of course, to the replacement refs. They're nice guys. They mean well. And they got in on the late flight after working high-school games.
TMQ cannot fathom why, observing how fragile sports allegiance has become in the 500-cable-stations age, the NFL is gambling with devaluing the NFL. This weekend the replacement refs didn't blow the outcome of any games, but they did fumble countless calls. Check the tapes of the Dallas-Tampa and Oakland-Kansas City games particularly; check the sideline call on Amani Toomer's third-quarter "touchdown" last night. A few of the mutated zebras did sterling jobs; it was impressive to see them toss yellow for roughing the passer against the Ravens, a call the regular people of stripes were afraid to make last year in the playoffs. But overall, the replacement refs are a blown game looking for a place to happen.
Why is the league risking loss of face when the stakes are so small? Meeting the real refs' requests would cost the NFL about $6 million this year. That's roughly $200,000 per franchise—the minimum salary for one rookie free agent—against average franchise annual revenue of $131 million (Wall Street Journal estimate). This is pocket change and so much less important than keeping the fans believing they are watching the best possible product.
Central to the dispute is that football refs are the only ones paid part time and expected to have primary bread-winner occupations. NBA, NHL, and MLB officials are full-time and draw full-time pay. True, the zebras work far fewer games than other officials—an MLB umpire has to be full-time, though maybe he could do Amway during the offseason—and true, for decades zebras have held other jobs and still been good on Sundays. But the speed and intensity of the game just keep increasing, as does the money (in TV revenues) on the line. The NFL should give in and make its refs full-time so that they can practice offseason as other pro officials.
Many owners suspect, of course, that as the refs demand full-time wages, their true plan is to take the added scratch and keep the other jobs anyway. So call the bluff and say: We'll provide full-time pay so long as you resign from other employment. Give the refs a big raise, and then ban outside income, making them like federal judges. (For what a Senate confirmation hearing for an NFL referee would be like, see below.) But do something decisive before the wrong team wins a game because of a replacement whistle.
In other NFL news, since the point at the end of last season when they were 13-3 and widely favored to win the Super Bowl, the Tennessee Flaming Thumbtacks have lost two straight home games, surrendering 55 points. Thus do the football gods continue to test the wandering franchise, yet oh, toward what end?
Best Plays of the Week: Zing! Perfect out and up from space alien Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce to put the Rams into position for the winning figgie in OT at Philadelphia. The ball even arrived at the right part of Bruce's body, just above his inside shoulder. That hyperspectral transponder Warner brought with him on the starcruiser from his homeworld sure is coming in handy.
Best No. 2 (Best Tactics Special): Runners often start slow since in the first quarter the defensive line is fresh, while by the second half the front seven have been pounded down and start missing tackles. This is why successful teams stay with the run even if it is stuffed on the initial series. In the Indianapolis-Jersey/B game, Edgerrin James had just 15 yards on his first six carries. Many coaches would have abandoned the run and gone pass-wacky. The Horsies stuck with James, and, as Jersey/B defenders began to fade, he ran for a total of 135 yards on 28 tries.
Best No. 3 (Best Blocks Special): In the Chiefs-Raiders game, when quarterback Trent Green took off running on fourth and 10 with the game on the line, center Brian Waters first jumped out of Green's way, then grabbed him and helped him regain his balance when he stumbled, then wiped out the Raider pursuing; Green converted the first. In the Colts-Jersey/B game, the Horsies went for it on fourth and short, running off tackle right. Guard Steve McKinney pulled from the left, blocked the defender at the point of attack, and then—instead of just stopping as so many OLs do after hitting their assigned man—lunged forward and blocked a second Jet, clearing the path for a 29-yard touchdown run by James. But the best blocks of the day came from QBs. Brett Favre hustled downfield to level a defender on a teammate's long run—many OLs don't bother to head downfield once the runner passes them—while 5-foot-10-inch Doug Flutie wiped out Bruce Smith on a reverse.
Worst Plays of the Week (Worst Combo): Trailing by seven with under two minutes to go, Kansas City was just inside midfield against the Raiders. Maybe, just maybe the Chiefs would try a deep pass? Oakland sure didn't think so, leaving single coverage on WR Marvin Minnis, who blew past Charles Woodson on a simple "up" for six to tie the game. (How does Woodson get to Hawaii when he sees his opponent's back so often?) A moment later, the Raiders were just inside midfield, score tied and the clock zeroed out. Maybe, just maybe Oakland would try a deep pass? The Chiefs didn't think so, leaving single coverage on WR Tim Brown, who blew past his less-known defender on a simple "up" for the long completion that set the stage for the winning figgie.
Worst No. 2: Trailing by six with two minutes to go in Cincinnati, New England faced fourth and two. The P-Men trotted to the line and tried a play that usually fails in high school—a quick-snap, and Drew Bledsoe lunged forward with only the center blocking. Game on the line and nine Patriots stood by, watching, making no attempt to block. Amazing result: The single blocker failed to push back four Bengals lineman, and the try failed.
Stats of the Week: New Orleans had no points and one first down in the first half at Buffalo, 24 points and 16 first downs in the second half.
Stat No. 2: The Browns (Release 2.0) had as many punts as points.
Stat No. 3: The Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons had only one more first down (eight) than fumbles (seven).
Stat No. 4: Ed McCaffrey of Denver becomes the second white guy to suffer a turn-your-head-away broken leg on Monday Night Football; it happened to Joe Thiesmann on MNF once, too.
Stat No. 5: Colts DE Chukie Nwokorie recorded the longest touchdown run in NFL history—in time, not yards. Filching a Jersey/A fumble, he sashayed and chaussed for an incredible 18 seconds before reaching the house, making various slo-mo moves on his sole pursuer, QB Vinny Testaverde. Watch 18 seconds tick off your watch to appreciate this near-eternity by NFL standards. While Nwokorie and Testaverde were box-stepping at half-speed along the sideline, the other 10 extremely highly overpaid Jets players stood motionless at the far end of the field and looked on, though Nwokorie easily could have been run down.
Al Sharpton Chains Self to Eagles Bench: According to internal Pentagon documents, the Navy plans to solve its problems with the Vieques bombing range by using the playing surface at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia as its new practice target. "Nothing we've got can penetrate that turf," confidential memos say. "The bombs bounce harmlessly off."
Buck-Buck-Buck Brawckkkkkkk: Trailing 21-0 at Green Bay, Detroit kicked a field goal rather than go for it on fourth down in Packers territory. Trailing 21-3 with fourth and four at the Packers' 21, Detroit kicked a field goal. The timorous Lions were pounded, 28-6.
Put That Money in a Lockbox: At one point in May, the Cowboys were $570 under the $67.4 million salary cap.
In Partial Honesty, the Show's Great! Promos for CBS's new WolfLake caution that it contains "partial nudity." From the American Heritage Dictionary, "Nude: Being without clothing; naked." How can someone be "partially" naked? This is like your date promising you partial sex.
Zebra Confirmation Hearing: Here is what it would sound like if NFL officials were subject to Senate confirmation:
CHAIRMAN LEAHY: Congratulations on your nomination 26 years ago, and now your name has finally come up for confirmation. Please adjust your hearing aid and answer our questions. After a $14 million background check, investigators have determined that you have an unpaid parking ticket and numerous pairs of mismatched socks. Do you deny these charges?
REF NOMINEE: The parking ticket is a dirty trick played by my political opponents, and the mismatched socks were a staff error.
SEN. GRASSLEY: Our subcommittee staff has surveillance film of you putting out recyclable beer bottles with the regular trash. Do you deny these charges?
REF NOMINEE: (Whispers to lawyer.) On advice of counsel, I decline to answer.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: FBI electronic monitoring has determined that you once employed your laptop to check out www.cheerleadersinbondage.com. How can you explain this shocking exercise of First Amendment rights?
SEN. KENNEDY: And what exactly was that address?
REF NOMINEE: Um, I was looking for Land's End.
SEN. HATCH: Do you believe the Constitution says what it means and means what it says?
REF NOMINEE: I guess so. I meant to say, yes!
SEN. SCHUMER: What is your position on Annex II revisions of the Kyoto global warming treaty?
REF NOMINEE: I'm not sure how that is relevant to—
SEN. SCHUMER: Evading the question! He must be guilty of something!
SEN. THURMOND: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Maybe Gatsby Paid To Be Called "Great": Many have noted the recent disclosure that London's Bulgari jewelry company paid author Fay Weldon to praise its products in her latest romance novel, which by wild coincidence is titled The Bulgari Connection. (Click here to read Bob Wright's article on this phenomenon.) Tuesday Morning Quarterback was struck that Weldon praises herself as "a literary author." And Ricky Martin is an opera singer—to be literary one must have, what's the word I'm looking for, oh yeah, standards. Weldon actually boasted to the New York Times that Bulgari "approved the manuscript without change." My corporate sponsor approved my manuscript! Talk about your postmodern rodomontade. And what sort of editorial feedback was Bulgari supposed to give Weldon anyway? "This controlling metaphor of entropic decline among the very rich, the board of directors felt it was a bit too derivative of Pynchon." More likely, "For the sex scene in the stretch limo, we think she should ask to be gagged with one of the lovely scarves from our fall collection."
TMQ sees no reason why paid product placements should be confined to crummy novels. Why not presidential speeches? ("To get real value, spend your tax cut at Barnes and Noble," George W. Bush said yesterday.) Why not wire reports of presidential speeches? ("To get real value, spend your tax cut at Barnes and Noble," George W. Bush said yesterday from the steps of the glistening Boeing-built Air Force One.) Why not textbooks? ("Case Study: How Rising ROE at McDonald's Improves Women's Rights.") Why not papal encyclicals? ("Deus autem ipse est qui Nike cognoscendae studium hominum mentibus insevit, suique tandem etiam cognoscendi ut, cognoscentes Eum diligentesque, ad plenam pariter de se ipsis pertingere Air Jordans veritatem.")
And of course, why not football? NFL players already have product trademarks on their uniforms. Randy Moss has already been fined by the league for sporting a cap emblazoning symbols of the wrong Third-World-worker-exploiting fashion chain. Dennis Miller is a walking product placement for himself. Why not make the whole thing official?
In the literary spirit, Tuesday Morning Quarterback will offer plugs for sale in this column. Want a favorable product placement? Your company's name in the headline? Pony up. I promise to be extremely discreet, just like Fay Weldon. Think of the possibilities:
- TMQ says, "Firestone tires are the Tuesday Morning Quarterback of tires!"
- TMQ says, "The chic new Anna Kournikova sports bra holds 'em even better than I could!"
- From a future TMQ: "The Ravens were scarier on defense than the gripping new Stephen King novel Dreamcatcher. I put down my delicious Pete's Wicked Ale and pondered. Just how many times since the opening of the family-friendly Olive Garden restaurant chain have there been so many sacks in one game? Maybe easy-to-use Microsoft Encarta would know."
Product placement note: TMQ would prefer to sell out to Victoria's Secret. Preferably, payment would not be in cash.
You Can't Be Too Careful: As Jason Elam of Denver lined up to try a 64-yard field goal as the half expired in the Broncos/Jersey A game—this moon shot would have been longest in league history—the Giants called a time out to "ice" him.
Haiku Corner: Once again, readers are invited to submit their poetic efforts via "The Fray." Worthy entries may appear in future columns. Important note: literary merit optional. Here is a reader effort and a staff effort:
Guard meets linebacker
Newton's Third Law in effect
No gain on the play.
On opening day,
All fans smile. Reality
still a few weeks off.
Hidden Indicator of the Week: Five of Sunday's 14 losing teams scored exactly six points, in each case on two field goals. 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
Obscure College Score of the Week: MacMurray 63, Blackburn 6. Located in Jacksonville, Ill., MacMurray promises a nostalgic traditional college feel with "rituals that go back to 1846." On-campus organizations include a "clown ministry group," an "elected governmental body for each residence hall" and "the ONLY daily small college newspaper."
Bonus Obscure Score: Curry 55, Maine Maritime 24. Maine Maritime is "Global, hands-on, high-tech—just add water!" Course offerings include: "Eg-261 Steam Generators I." Located on beautiful Penobscot Bay, the school boasts that it was the first maritime college to graduate a woman and that the campus "has no gates or fences." Check what ship is currently moored at Maine Maritime using its waterfront Web cam.
New York Times Final-Score Score: Undaunted by last season's 0-260 record in its quixotic attempt to predict the exact final score of an NFL game, the Multicolored Lady is at it again. So this running item resumes.
Last year in an incredibly mathematically advanced item, TMQ estimated the odds of predicting an exact NFL score at one in 500, assuming the seer stuck to plausible finals (say, 20-13) and avoided outlier forecasts (say, 59-3). This year the Times will pass 500 predictions since TMQ has been monitoring, so perhaps the first success may be recorded. Yes, I know probability is not cumulative; each one in 500 chance is one in 500 regardless of the prior 499 outcomes. I'm just setting up my excuse in case the Times gets lucky. But it didn't get lucky this week, breaking out of the gate 0-15. Times predicted: Giants 17, Broncos 14. Actual: Broncos 31, Giants 20. And so on.
Not only did the Times attempt to predict final scores, it even predicted statistics! The Times foresaw that Me-Shawn Johnson would catch for 120 yards (love that pseudo-precision) and two touchdowns. Actual: 71 yards and no touchdowns. The Times said of the Colts-Jets matchup, "One thing is certain, it will be close." Actual: Horsies by 21.
TMQ reminds readers that last year it dismissed the oft-heard claim that Times final score predictions are encrypted betting advice. The predictions don't follow a bookie-code format as the Times often forecasts underdogs to win straight up—this week calling Jersey/A, getting seven, to win at Denver by three—whereas if the goal were covert wagering tips, it would only be necessary to predict a final score in which the woofer covers. At any rate, if Times predictions really are off-track betters' info, keep your money in a lockbox. Viewed as wagering code, Paper of Record's picks went 5-9-1.
Most Embarrassing Dennis Miller Moment: Unfortunately this item is back; TMQ wishes he could say it was not. Last night Miller several times prefaced comments with the oleaginous politicianlike "quite frankly …" First, saying, "quite frankly …" is relevant only if your typical comments are not frank. What, Miller has been deceiving us when he pretends to care about the Broncos reserve OLs? Second, "quite frankly …" is a sure sign of bloated self-image. Members of the United States Senate say, "Quite frankly, it's time for lunch."
TMQ Insider Exclusive! Highly placed sources tell Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusively that the Packers game plan for next week calls for running and passing. "We plan to run more and pass more," a team official said. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive.
Reader Animadversion, from The Fray: Many readers pointed out that TMQ's lambasting of the Bengals for "mediocrity" is wrong given that, as worst-record team over the past decade, Cincinnati can but dream of achieving mediocrity.
Doug Scales points out that missing from TMQ's long list of quarterbacks who began to perform well as soon as they were safely clear of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' gravitational field—Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Trent Dilfer, Chris Chandler—was Doug Williams. Sent off in a huff (or as Groucho would say, in a minute and huff) by Tampa management, Williams later won a Super Bowl for the Persons.
Matt Warnick declares that there is a burgeoning movement to get Eagles fans to wear cheese-steak heads to games. TMQ lauds any Philadelphia faithful who displays the simple common sense to attend an NFL contest wearing fake cheese. Mine with extra onions, please.
Reader Dilan Esper headed several protesting that TMQ's cost comparison between existing Husky Stadium, the beautiful venue where the Seahawks will play this year, and the unsightly, soulless corporate facility under construction for next year. TMQ said that using inflation-adjusted numbers, the new field will be 73 times more expensive than Husky Stadium. This, readers pointed out, failed to take into account extensive renovations to Husky, including the addition of an upper deck. Sorry. Adjust for renovations and the new stadium drops to only 50 times more costly. Corporate soullessness does not come cheap.
Last Week's Question: TMQ noted that Fox announcer and converted NFL jock Brian Baldinger had correctly cited Newton's Second Law of Motion, then asked why he had inexplicably failed to add that,
m1V1+m2V2+m3V3+ … = 0
What does the above mean? About a dozen readers correctly answered that this is the law of the conservation of momentum. Among other things, this law dictates that all forces in a collision equal zero, which is why so many people fall down at the end of football plays. The TMQ cap for the correct answer goes to Moira Adams of Coppell, Texas, who must have been paying attention in physics class.
Reader "TEK" noted that because all forces must equal zero, "What this means for us football fans is that the season, taken as a whole, amounts to zip. There is also a similar equation where m=mass, V=viewers, C=corn chips, and B=beer." Reader Mark Wade suggested this law dictates that "The sum of any tracks on a Milli Vanilli CD sung by either Milli or Vanilli is equal to zero." Reader Karen, using precision TMQ lingo, suggested that "the law explains why, when an extremely large ill-tempered gentleman (M1) runs into someone considerably smaller (M2) carrying a camera on the sidelines, the smaller gentleman is propelled away rapidly. It also explains why small people like me don't play football."
And reader Joseph Britt wrote that if combined forces of nature equal zero, "It's all so empty and meaningless. Just thinking about it makes me want to hide under my desk." Joe, Joe, get back up! (Unless Kate Hudson is under your desk.) Remember, there's a huge difference between zero and nothing. A condition of nothing may be empty and meaningless, but zero can be an active state. You can put a zero on a jersey. Zeroes in your bank account confer happiness. In physics, the fact that combining everything produces a zero means the forces of nature are balanced and symmetrical, which sounds to TMQ like evidence of higher purpose. Perhaps there is some larger intelligence to the universe, which made us so that we can experience NFL games, overpriced beer, and parking lot gridlock afterward. This moves me to haiku:
If higher purpose
Is real, fine. But it must wait
Till after the games.