Everybody's saying parity has made NFL teams interchangeable. There are no more dynasties; bad teams become good, good teams bad; the league's goal is for every club to finish at .500. Sportswriting, sports announcing, and sports call-in shows resound with denunciations of the insidious outburst of parity.
There's one problem—parity is a myth. Maybe that's why so many people believe in it!
The proof will be disclosed in a moment, but first let's consider the logical case why we should not expect to observe any recent, unusual parity effect.
First, parity is claimed to result from "strength" scheduling, a Pete Rozelle idea of the late 1980s. Under this system, at the end of each season, weak teams are slated against weak teams for the following season, and strong teams against strong. Parity mythologists claim this pushes all outcomes toward the middle.
But "strength" scheduling affects only the 25 percent of a club's schedule that the league can tinker with. Twelve of 16 games each year are determined regardless of records: the mandatory home-and-home series against others in the club's division, plus the mandatory every-third-year rotating series against a division from the opposite conference. This leaves four of 16 games for the league to manipulate, which is just not enough to have a huge impact on overall outcomes.
Besides, teams the league computer slated as "weak" last winter included the Niners and Bears, whom nobody wants to play right now; teams the computer slated as "strong" included the Giants and Vikings, who are both sinking into the sunset. And Rozelle had a sensible reason for the strength rule—he sought to minimize the boring blowouts that often happen when best plays worst. This is in every fan's interest. The scheduling part of the alleged parity conspiracy just doesn't hold water.
The other claim is that free agency, begun in 1993, means so much player shuffling that teams undergo wild swings of ability to win. TMQ hates the shuffling effect—it's an outrage that Jerry Rice is not finishing his career in San Francisco, or Bruce Smith in Buffalo—but statistically, free agency simply hasn't altered victory continuity as much as people think. Ups and downs in the standings are no different today than they were before free agency.
Here's the proof. Right now the top teams by record are the Bears, Dolphins, Niners, Packers, Raiders, Rams, Ravens, and Steelers. When last season ended, the top teams by record were Baltimore, Denver, Miami, New York/A, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Tennessee. That's 37 percent repeating from the previous year.
How does this compare with the golden past? Step back a decade to 1991. That season, 25 percent of the top-record teams repeated from the previous year. Step back another decade to 1981. That year, 33 percent of the top-record clubs repeated from the previous season. Step back another decade to 1971. That year as well, 33 percent of the top-record teams repeated from the previous season. The fact that the top teams don't stay on top is not a recent parity-driven development. It is the NFL norm.
Now let's look at the muddled middle. At the moment, 32 percent of the league's teams are at .500, or one game above or below. Step back a decade to 1991, and 14 percent of teams finished at .500 or off by one game either way—the only varied statistic in this whole analysis. Step back a decade to 1981, and 40 percent of teams sat in the middle. Step back a decade to 1971, and the figure was 36 percent middle teams. The fact that many teams are fluttering around in the middle is not a parity development. It, too, is the NFL norm.
As for the dynasty clubs—the Packers of the 1960s, Steelers of the 1970s, Niners of the 1980s, and Cowboys of the 1990s—they straddled all organizational trends. Occurring at the rate of roughly one per decade, true dynasties are sufficiently atypical that the current absence of a dynastic franchise means nothing.
In other NFL news, TMQ names official Phil Luckett its Defensive Player of the Week. As Saints WR Joe Horn streaked deep for what looked like an easy TD catch against the Panthers, he collided with Luckett, who inexplicably didn't move out of the way; Horn dropped the pass. Luckett is not only the zebra who, in 1998, awarded the ball to the wrong team at the start of a Thanksgiving Day overtime. That same year, before the return of replay, Luckett awarded the Jets a last-second touchdown that knocked the Seahawks out of playoff contention, though the New York ball-carrier was stopped a full yard short of the goal line. In 1999, Luckett made the decision not to overturn the dubious Music City Miracle "lateral," awarding the Flaming Thumbtacks a playoff game. After the Miracle foible, Luckett was demoted from referee (head of an officiating crew) to back judge, where he was standing Sunday. No one is safe with this man in the building.
Best Plays of the Week. Best Pump Fakes: NFL quarterbacks pump-fake surprisingly little, considering that some of the best all-time QBs, especially Steve Young, loved to pump. On Sunday, Aaron Brooks, Rich Gannon, Peyton Manning, and Kurt Warner (twice) all threw touchdown passes on pump fakes.
Best No. 2. Best Play Fake: Detroit's Charlie Batch play-faked so convincingly that all six Chicago defenders "in the box" tried to tackle a gentleman who carried no ball. No Bear paid any attention to Batch, who calmly tossed a 56-yard pass.
Best No. 3. Best Blocking Fake: The Cardinals noticed that the Raiders allow a league-high 4.8 yards per rush attempt and went into Oakland with a game plan that called for "off" blocking, in which the offensive line slants away from the direction of the run. The result was 145 yards rushing on the road and an upset win for the Az-Men.
Best No. 4: TMQ dislikes the fashionable "slide block," in which an H-back shuffles sideways before the snap, trying to get directly across from whichever LB is stunting. Slide blocks telegraph run, and the slide man rarely accomplishes much since his body weight is not forward when the play starts. But against New York/B, the Patriots ran the slide to perfection. H-person Jermaine Wiggins wiped out the Jet at the point of attack, and Antowain Smith walked in for the touchdown that changed the momentum of the game.
Worst Plays of the Week. Worst Defense No. 1: Game tied with less than two minutes left, the Bolts had Seattle facing third and long on its 19. San Diego rushed three, dropping eight into coverage. Despite eight available pass defenders, Hawks WR Darrell Jackson streaked uncontested for a 45-yard reception.
Worst Defensive No. 2: Peyton Manning is today's leading exponent of the pump fake, pumping on every third throw, every second throw when his team is behind. Late in the third at Baltimore, after Manning had pump-faked a dozen times in the game already, Ravens CB Chris McAlister bit on a pump fake so badly that he fell on his keister, allowing Horsies receiver Marvin Harrison to streak uncontested for a 57-yard touchdown.
Worst Defensive No. 3: Minnesota trailed 21-16 with 1:30 remaining and had Pittsburgh facing third and 10. Everyone knew the Steelers would run to grind the clock, then punt. The Vikings brought nine men up to the line. Pittsburgh back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala danced for a 46-yard run to seal the game.
Stats of the Week: Through 11 games, Peyton Manning has thrown six interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Stat No. 2: Jax is now 10-18 since the most disastrous event in franchise history, the Jaguars' 62-7 playoff victory over Miami. Stretching back to last season, Pittsburgh is on an 18-6 run and Bay of Green on a 12-3 run.
Stat No. 3: The Browns lead the league in making interceptions despite the fact that three of their four DB starters are waiver-wire gentlemen (Devin Bush, Corey Fuller, Earl Little) and most of the backups were also unwanted by other teams.
Stat No. 4: Marshall Faulk gained 198 yards and scored three touchdowns on just 18 carries and catches, averaging 11 yards each time he touched the ball. Looks like the Rams have realigned their graviton torus generators that for the last few weeks have been malfunctioning owing to the lambda-drive wake of a passing starcruiser.
Stat No. 5: The Chiefs and Bills, possessors of the NFL's second- and fourth-best home records during the 1990s, are a combined 1-11 at home.
Stat No. 6: The defending NFC champ Giants are now tied in the standings with the Arizona (CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN FOOTBALL-LIKE SUBSTANCE) Cardinals.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Oakland led 24-23 and had Arizona facing second and long with 1:27 left. It's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross the line; the Cardinals throw a 50-yard touchdown pass to David Boston for the lead. Also, deuce conversion in accordance with TMQ's immutable law, Take One Till the Fourth. (Last night Jax broke the law, going for two in the third, and even though they made it were penalized with defeat.)
George Lucas Was Filming Little Mermaid III:An estimated 20,000 season ticket holders couldn't get into the Niners Sunday night game because they arrived to discover two of the stadium's parking lots were under water from an intense rainstorm. Weather forecasters had warned the team the lots might flood, but the Niners, already having the fans' money, did not rent pumps.
Bill, the Theory Is To Challenge Calls That Go Against You: Steelers coach Bill Cowher challengeda call that resulted in Pittsburgh having first and goal at the Vikings' 1. This is the second consecutive season (last year, against the Flaming Thumbtacks) Cowher challenged a call that gave his team first and goal at the 1. In both case the Steelers lost a timeout, then scored on the next play anyway.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Trailing 13-0 at home, Kansas City faced fourth and four on the Philadelphia 11 in the final minute of the first half. The Chiefs kicked and went on to a 23-10 defeat. Kansas City entered the game 3-7. What exactly did they have to lose?
Sorry, User Name DRumsfeld Has Already Been Taken: The Air Force is consolidating the intranets from its 110 global bases into a single electronic portal that is to be called My.AirForce.
National Programming Outrage: Fox had the doubleheader and for the late game showed much of the country the meaningless Persons-'Girls matchup (combined records 7-13) rather than Rams at Falcons (combined records 14-6).
Reader Haiku: Submit yours via the "Fray." The last three concern the Playmate and cheerleader-swimsuit-pics links TMQ feels essential to any serious sports column.
Brady beats the Jets,
Bledsoe wears a baseball lid:
cap room on sideline.
Rams acting cocky,
say turnovers are OK.
Whoops! There goes the game.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld,
Niners, Bears all on a roll:
'80s deja vu.
naked mega-babes Web site.
No work done that day!
Curse you, TMQ!
Tempting cheer-babes links beckon,
but boss strolls nearby.
Babe surfing: workplace
taboo. TMQ: legit
writer. Conscience clear!
Baltimore Defeats Colts: As the Colts lined up to play in Baltimore on Sunday, could that really have been Johnny Unitas in purple and black on the sidelines, jesting with gentlemen called Ravens? Yes, the Colts blew Balamer (local pronunciation) in shameful fashion, but why didn't Unitas remain loyal to the franchise that made him famous? Such loyalty-switching is lamented in haiku in the incredibly cleverly titled book Tuesday Morning Quarterback—new stuff, not a collection of past columns—which is now in stores, or you can buy it here.
wearing a purple cap? Arggghhhhhh,
should be blue and white.
Mega-Babe Plebiscite: It's time for Tuesday Morning Quarterback to select a new mega-babe to obsess over for the remainder of the season. Cindy Crawford's been done; sadly, not by me. Jennifer Lopez is yesterday's news—when she showed up for the Oscars in a dress that was borderline tasteful, TMQ knew an era in American history had ended. Anna Kournikova has begun filming ads joking about the fact that everyone wants to see her bod. But she films the ads fully clothed, and what's the point of that?
Thus TMQ needs to pick a new mega-babe to fantasize about meeting at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe for an assignation. (I've always wanted to use the word "assignation.") It would be the high-priced suite with panoramic view of the parking lot; she would be dressed in a leather harness and purring, "Oh TMQ, show me your game plan." Nominees include:
- Kate Hudson, who posed nude for InStyle and declared, "I love being naked." This alone puts her in the running for Tuesday Morning Quarterback Mega-Babe of the Year.
- Heather Locklear. Maybe she's aging, but not visually.
- Aki Ross, the computer-generated babe in the bad sci-fi movie Final Fantasy. OK, so she doesn't exist, but presumably this means she will never criticize the way you are dressed.
- Angelina Jolie. She's real, right? Please tell me she's real.
- Jessica Biel, who played a minister's daughter on the religious-themed TV show Seventh Heaven and also posed topless for Gear.She's hot, and she's spiritual.A Google search for her name plus "topless" returned 14,900 hits, including this French site that promised Plus de 750 photos de célébrités sexy comme Britney Spears, Carmen Electra ... Britney Spears, Carmen Electra? I thought in France they had sophisticated taste in women! Readers are invited to weigh in on whether Carmen Electra is even a double-X; TMQ entertains suspicions.
- Jeri Ryan, making up for years of tedious fully clothed appearances on Star Trek Voyager by doing weekly cheesecake for Boston Public.
- Salma Hayek. Played a hot lipstick bisexual in the movie Time Code.This is the shocking truth about what all Los Angeles women are really like—hot and bi. Isn't it? Isn't it?
- Lucy Lawless. The former Xena medieval mythical babe introduced herself in her new role on The X Files as "a biologically engineered unit." TMQ could think of biological experiments to conduct on her.
- Roselyn Sanchez, who had the best—that is to say, covered the least—dress at the Hispanic Heritage Awards. Last year Jennifer Lopez wore only the back half of a dress to a big public event. This year Sanchez wore only the front half.
- Reese Witherspoon. Hot and funny, too; could be sensory overload. Plus, in her search for stardom she took the uninhibited Scandinavian clothing-optional approach to life. A Google search for her name and "nude" returned 5,540 hits.
- Gwyneth Paltrow. Thrown in for the appearance of good taste; TMQ would much prefer a bod-oriented cheesecake type.
- Write-in vote.
Which of these mega-babes should TMQ obsess over? Submit your erudite reasoning (and Web links to any interesting visuals) via the Fray, titling entries Mega-Babe Plebiscite. The cleverest or most bawdy—within the bounds of polite language, please—may win one of the stylish new TMQ caps, though the final decision will be completely arbitrary.
Combined Efficiency Redux: Last year TMQ's Combined Efficiency Ranking™ completely failed as a predictor of final standings. But TMQ lives in Washington, D.C., where ideas that completely fail invariably come back in bigger, more elaborate forms. So the Combined Efficiency Ranking™ is back.
Combined Efficiency merges offensive and defensive yardage rankings to assess who's best on both sides of the ball. The ideal Combined Efficiency Ranking™ would be 2: first offensive, first defensive. The worst would be 62, meaning 31st in both categories.
When last season ended, the Combined Efficiency™ winner turned out to be Buffalo. The Bills were tops in the league overall on both sides of the ball, finishing with a 12 (third defensive, ninth offensive), yet didn't make the playoffs. No. 2 last year in Combined Efficiency were the Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons, who didn't make the playoffs either. Astonishingly awful special teams did in both clubs.
Here is the current Combined Efficiency Ranking™ leader board:
Rams, 3: first offensive, second defensive.
Steelers, 5: fourth offensive, first defensive.
Packers, 11: sixth offensive, fifth defensive.
Ravens, 13: 10th offensive, third defensive.
Marine Mammals, 20: 14th offensive, sixth defensive.
Here are the combined efficiency dogs:
Cardinals, Falcons: tied at 45.
Persons, 48: 29th offensive, 19th defensive.
Jax, 49: 26th offensive, 23rd defensive.
Panthers, 60: 29th offensive, 31st defensive.
Puzzlingly, once again the Bills are statistically much better at yardage than at winning. Buffalo ranks ninth overall with a 26: 11th offense, 15th defense. When the 1-9 Bills met the 8-2 Niners on Sunday night, Buffalo came into the game with better overall yardage stats than San Francisco.
What jumps out from the Combined Efficiency Ranking™? The Bears are way over their heads, with a shining 9-2 record but a bottom-quartile 41: 23rd offensive, 18th defensive. Chicago is living off big-play turnovers, which never last. Same for the Browns, an unimpressive 44: 31st offensive, 13th defensive. In combined yardage terms, the Chargers, Chiefs, and Lions look notably better than their records while the Jets and Patriots look notably worse. The defending champ Ravens, at 13, are performing better in yardage terms than in last year's Super Bowl season, when their final number was 18. Most of all, what jumps out is that the Rams' and Steelers' rankings are so spectacular, smart money might start flowing toward them as the Super Bowl pairing.
Of course all this measures yards, not points. But the final score already exists to measure points.
Sign of the Week: Seen in the crowd at Jacksonville on MNF:"At Least We're Not the Lions." Oh, but just wait till 2002.
TMQ Insider Exclusive! Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned on an exclusive basis that as children, the Gramatica brothers were not fed unless they first jumped into the air for five minutes. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive.
Running Items Department
ObscureCollege Score of the Week: Grand Valley State 34, Catawba 16, Division II semifinal. Located in Salisbury, N.C., Catawba is a liberal-arts school whose FAQs page boasts that
After interviewing professors for a class project, one Catawba student was "amazed" by how much her professors love Catawba.
The school advertises that students are amazed to discover that professors like it? The college's Center for the Environment says: "Imagine it. One moment a student is viewing plankton under a microscope and the next she is stepping into hip-waders to collect insect larvae from a stream on campus." Imagine it! And despite being named after a wine, Catawba offers three dorms that are "substance-free." If substance-free, what are they made of?
Bonus Obscure Score: Mount Union 49, Wittenberg 21, Division III quarterfinals. Wittenberg's defense had an off day, allowing Mount Union back Chuck Moore to run for 346 yards. Located on a picturesque wooded campus in Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg is a Lutheran-affiliated college whose FAQs page advises,
Q. Who will do my laundry?
A. You will quickly become an expert in detergent, bleach, and what does and doesn't go in the dryer!
Wittenberg gets a lot of students who have never done their own laundry? This week's campus events include a "Pre-Health Club Presentation on Biological Warfare, Hollenbeck Room 131."
New York Times Final-Score Score: Once again the Paper of Guesses goes 0-15 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 0-173 this season and 0-433 since TMQ began tracking. Again the Times weirdly even tried to forecast individual player performances. It said the Falcons would upset the Rams with Chris Chandler "making big fourth-quarter plays." Chandler left at halftime as Atlanta was pounded. It said the Broncos would beat the Dolphins with Brian Griese "making just enough big plays." Griese averaged 4 yards per pass attempt and threw an interception returned for a touchdown as Denver lost.
Reader Animadversion: Many readers stood up for the honor of Miami University. "Hutch the Bitter Ohioan," who may have some cartographic issues to work out, was among those who protested that Miami University was in business in Ohio in 1809, not only decades before there was a University of Miami, but before Florida was even a state. Ohio's Miami is also bigger than Florida's, enrolling 205 more students this fall, according to Hutch's calculation. A reader haikuizes,
When Miami U.
founded, didn't Florida
still belong to Spain?
Not quite; the Louisiana Purchase was in 1803. But TMQ takes the point. Reader Jeff Dudash notes that since the school's town is Oxford, Ohio, to break the Florida confusion it might be called Miami of Oxford or even Oxford of Ohio. Reader Scott van Dyke goes on to protest that as a name, Miami University is less confusing than Washington University at St. Louis. TMQ wonders why, given the "Miami of Florida" precedent, the existence of Washington at St. Louis does not force that Northwest-located Huskies university to call itself "Washington of Washington."
Many readers caught TMQ referring to Augustana as in "Rock City" rather than Rock Island. This triggered a lively dispute regarding what constitutes the Quad Cities. One reader thought he had it all figured out in haiku:
Rock Island, Moline
Davenport, and Bettendorf:
the four Quad Cities.
But wait, the official Web site of the Quad Cities lists a fifth, East Moline. The Quad Cities site offers no explanation of why it has five cities but does relate that "The Quad City Arts Festival of Trees is one of the five largest events of its kind in North America and has been ranked among the top 100 events in North America by the American Bus Association."
Reader Rob Torbert explains the area once was called the Tri Cities, then Bettendorf horned in. East Moline insisted on inclusion, causing local lobbying to say Quint Cities. Recently, Torbert reports, nearby Milan has begun to pressure for mention, which would make the area the Sex Cities. This could be a gold mine for Iowa tourism! (Milan, Torbert adds, is locally pronounced MY-len, "and don't even ask how Cairo is pronounced in the Midwest.") Another reader cautions that there may be no end to this civic inflation:
Milan, Silvis, too,
don't forget. Would you guess next:
Reader Dan Pittman notes that Augustana, "located in a Quad of five, divides its academic calendar into quarters, of which there are three." Reader Tom Johnson provides the big-picture perspective: "Being in any one of the five Quad Cities is like going to Missouri and discovering that both sides of the river are East St. Louis."
Readers barraged TMQ with an extensive discourse on Canadian military history, so much that it will have to wait for a future column. Anyway I've got the high ground. My late mother Vimy was so named because she was born during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, proudest moment of Canadian military history.
Last Week's Challenge … was to improve the lyrics of "O Canada," national anthem of "the true north." (For actual lyrics in English and French, see last week's column.)
Readers Al Hedges and "hungrydave" propose the anthem be renamed "Eh, Canada." Hedges' enhanced lyrics included,
Eh, Canada! Our neighbor to the north.
Don't be upset about what your dollar's worth.
But that is the American perspective, though Hedges' refrain, "O Canada, you don't need a fourth down," was pretty good. Reader "Cestlin" took the American perspective as well with the proposed,
Your exports include comedy
And Leonard Cohen songs.
But sticking us with Jim Carrey
Is history's greatest wrong.
The "Cestlin" anthem concluded, "O Canada! Don't bring your pennies here." Taking the Canadio perspective, Tim Lowell's new lyrics wound up to a stirring
God, keep our beer strong and duty-free.
O Canada, we ran off the Expos with glee.
O Canada! We pronounce it "zed," not "zee."
Ed DeJesus proposed that the refrain, "we stand on guard for thee," be replaced with "we hoist an ale for thee." Robert Shlanta proposed it become, "we stand on skates for thee." Proudly Canadio, Dov Rabinowitz offered,
O Canada! Our home and native land,
We can speak French, but you can't understand.
O Canada! Hosers with beer in hand.
True Molson love, in all thy mugs command.
Reader Tim pointed out that "O Canada" was written in French and sounds better in that tongue than in English. He then clipped the French lyrics into the Babel Fish universal translator and asked for English, receiving this amusing rendition of the official:
O Canada! Ground of our experience,
Your face east girds glorious florets.
Because your arm can carry strongly,
It can carry the cross.
Your history is continuous—additional brilliant exploits.
And your value, from soaked faith,
Will protect our homes and our rights,
Will protect our homes and our rights.
The entire Dada movement never came up with anything as good as "Your face east girds glorious florets."TMQ will suggest a Beliefnet article on "soaked faith."
The stylish TMQ cap for best new lyrics goes to Ed Gedeon of Vernon Hills, Ill., who proposes,
O Canada! Born of the British fold,
Nine months a year, it's bloody freaking cold.
We put a tax on ev'rything,
And pay with two-tonne coins.
We skate around with wooden sticks
For bashing heads and groins!
Beer is our pride; warmth is our goal.
O Canada, we love you heart and soul:
Salute the flag, but do not lick the pole!
This Week's Challenge: See "Mega-Babe Plebiscite," above.