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Monday, January 26, 2009
Updated: January 29, 4:02 PM ET
Kurt, Cards and Unwanteds rise from the NFL slums

By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

At Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, when not watching the action or checking out cheer-babes, I will be nervously scanning the skies overhead, watching vigilantly for alien starcruisers decloaking. Pregame flyover pilots: If you see a fusion drive wake, be alert. You don't seriously think "Kurt Warner" is of this world, do you?

Tuesday Morning Quarterback began in 2000, just after an undrafted former Iowa Barnstormer and grocery-store bagger calling himself "Kurt Warner" went from unknown to Super Bowl MVP in a single season. I proposed there was no terrestrial explanation for this phenomenon. "Warner," I said, must be a shape-shifting space alien sent to Earth to distract us from the approach of an interstellar invasion fleet. Here's an authentic 2001 TMQ in which I both call "Warner" a space alien and debut the now-retired cognomen, the Arizona (Caution: May Contain Football-Like Substance) Cardinals. When no invasion fleet ever dropped out of hyperspace, I stopped making the Warner-as-alien claim, which was always somewhat thinly sourced. And my paranoia has diminished. If an alien invasion fleet dropped out of hyperspace today, they'd take one look at the U.S. national debt and gun the impulse engines to another more promising world. After "Warner" was shown the door by the Rams, then shown the door by the Giants, I began to think maybe he was a Homo sapien after all.

Now the Arizona Cardinals, led by "Kurt Warner," are in the Super Bowl. Now I realize his identity -- "Warner" is a Tralfamadorian. In several Kurt Vonnegut novels, the Tralfamadorians are an ancient super-advanced alien race that means no harm, but intervenes with lesser civilizations for amusement. Tralfamadorians look like walking toilet plungers. Many foibles of human history have been their doing, as are many features of Earth. The Tralfamadorians, for example, manipulated construction of the Great Wall of China so that its apparent random zig-zags, when viewed from orbit, spell out a naughty word in their language; Tralfamadorians find this hugely hilarious. The fate of humanity? That's pretty funny to them, too.

TMQ Cheat Sheet
Gregg Easterbrook on …

Cheerleader of the week
Hidden trade of the year
Barack Hussein Obama
The economic crisis
The new Miss America
The running up the score watch
The 2008 All-Unwanted All-Pros
The Unwanted Player of the Year

If you wanted to manipulate history such that a global practical joke was staged, you'd put the Arizona Cardinals into the Super Bowl. Thus I finally understand the true mission of "Kurt Warner" -- to ingratiate himself into our society and culture, set himself up in a completely impossible situation, then cause something that is amusing when viewed from orbit. The idea of the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl is pretty amusing. And at this point, even Super Bowl parties can be viewed from orbit. If the Cardinals win the Super Bowl, it will become arguably the most improbable major victory in all of sports lore. Moments after the Lombardi Trophy presentation, expect a starcruiser to decloak and beam out "Kurt Warner" for return to his home world. Don't bother taking cell phone pictures -- the starcruiser will not appear on film.

As for what TMQ thinks will happen Sunday at VI:XXVIII Eastern -- just pushed back from VI:XX -- I think the team that scores the most points will win. Annually around this time everyone asks me, "Who's going to win the Super Bowl?" People seem disappointed with my invariable reply, "I have no idea." Over the years, I've realized what people want is for me, or anyone masquerading as a sports pundit, boldly to assert exactly what's going to happen. People seem to like the idea that insiders have super-ultra-secret knowledge that allows them to predict events; confidence men such as Bernard Madoff trade on this insight. Everyone, from my personal friends to the "SportsCenter" audience to the millions of people who will watch the Super Bowl, seems to want to believe that insiders, using incredible expertise, already know what will happen. No one has the slightest idea what will happen! But clearly there is a market for pretending you know what will happen. Resistance is futile, so here's my prediction: Arizona 28, Pittsburgh 10. All of human history has been manipulated by the Tralfamadorians to cause the Arizona Cardinals to win the Super Bowl!

As for pregame insights, consider these:

• During the regular season, Arizona was terrible at running the ball. The Cardinals finished last in rushing; nine NFL players outrushed the entire Arizona team. Matt Forte and Steve Slaton, whom most football purists wouldn't recognize if they walked into the room, personally outrushed the entire Arizona team. But during the regular season, Pittsburgh didn't rush well either, finishing 23rd. Both Super Bowl entrants struggled with the running game. We assume Pittsburgh has a power-rush offense, but this season it did not. Now, what's happened in the playoffs? Arizona has outrushed Pittsburgh! Not by much, but the Arizona (Contains Powerful Football Substance) Cardinals have more rushing yards per playoff game than the Steelers. This happened in part because Arizona's coaches surprised Carolina and then Philadelphia by calling more running plays than expected. Often the Cards were running against nickel and dime looks, and when the defense goes "light" with lots of skinny secondary guys, the run usually works.

The Princess Bride
"You assume I will pass, so I will run. But because you know I know you assume I will run because you assume I will pass, perhaps I should pass. Then again ..."
Obviously, Pittsburgh will come into the Super Bowl knowing Arizona has surprised two straight opponents by running the ball more, and so will expect Arizona to run the ball. Therefore maybe Arizona should come out passing. Then again, since the Steelers know the Cardinals may surprise them by running, and may expect to be surprised by passing, maybe the Cardinals should double-surprise Pittsburgh by running, since that's what Pittsburgh expects, and therefore will assume won't happen. Then again …

• On Sunday, Warner can become the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl with two different teams.

• What jumps off the page about postseason stats? Pittsburgh's rushing defense. The Hypocycloids have given up just 44 rushing yards per game. And though divisional-round opponent San Diego was down big in the second half and abandoned the run, the Pittsburgh-Baltimore AFC Championship Game was close until midway through the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh also was the second-best team in the NFL against the run in the regular season. The Steelers' defense can bring a rushing game to a halt, and against Pittsburgh, staying with the run and continuing to pound the ball doesn't seem to work. Unless Arizona breaks a couple of runs in the first half, the Cardinals may have little choice but to go pass-wacky. Pittsburgh is also first in the postseason against the pass.

• With Warner, Arizona has often been careless with the football; Warner threw four interceptions and fumbled twice in the Cards' losses to the Eagles and Giants during the regular season, for instance. In the current postseason, Arizona is plus-11 in turnovers. Being plus-11 is a big reason for the Cards' surprise Super Bowl run. But luck is a huge factor in turnovers, and luck has a way of changing. In three postseason games, Warner has thrown just two interceptions, and has not fumbled. In the NFC Championship Game, Philadelphia's defenders were trying to slam Warner hard -- several times after the whistle -- to rattle him and make him careless. The Steelers will almost surely try to put the hurt on Warner, too. Let's hope the officials enforce the late-hit rules more strictly than they did in the NFC Championship Game.

• During the regular season, the Steelers' defense was tops in yards allowed and points allowed; the Cardinals' defense was 19th and 28th, respectively. That is a gap you could drive John Madden's bus through.

• In the conference championship round, three of the four teams-- Arizona, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- employed the shotgun spread on third-and-1. All three did not rush. All three did not swing for the fence -- as the 1966 Packers showed, the best time to throw deep is third-and-1 -- rather, they attempted some dinky-dunky 5-yard junk passes. Tuesday Morning Quarterback finds it hard to believe the majority of teams in the NFL championship round felt they needed to go shotgun spread in order to gain 1 yard. But there it is.

• TMQ believes the farther in the playoffs you go, the more important game-planning, coaching and psychological preparation become -- because at each stage, the pressure increases. As the pressure increases, so too does the temptation to escape pressure. Tampa has a renowned late-night topless-club social scene, which some say is even better than the scene in Vegas. If any player from either team is out club-hopping Saturday night rather than back at the hotel playing Yahtzee and drinking milk shakes, that team is finished.

• TMQ also believes that playing against type is a key to winning the Super Bowl. Because coaches have two weeks to prepare for this contest, they overanalyze opponents' tendencies. Thus it is essential to break tendencies. Arizona should use power sets on offense. Pittsburgh should go with the pro set (the Steelers haven't lined up in the pro set since Rocky Bleier). On defense, Arizona should back away from safety blitzes; it's now a Cards tendency and opponents know it's coming. On defense, Pittsburgh should -- um, not change a thing.

• In addition to its well-documented 62-year championship drought, Arizona has only two winning seasons in the past 24 years. In franchise-history terms, the Arizona (Contains Powerful Football Substance) Cardinals are simply the worst organization ever to reach the Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers, vying to become the first team to win six Lombardis, arguably are the best organization ever to reach the Super Bowl. If you don't want to find out what happens when ultra-underdog meets steamroller on a global stage, then you don't like sports.

In other football news, everyone knows about the high-drafted media-hyped glory-boy NFL types. But what about the gentlemen who were never drafted, or were waived, or both? Annually, TMQ names the All-Unwanted All Pros -- the best performers who wandered in the desert before knowing success. See below for my All-Unwanted All Pros, plus my Unwanted Player of the Year.

San Diego Chargers
No wonder interest in Pilates is increasing.

Cheerleader of the Week: Jill Ann of the San Diego Chargers, who according to her team bio has studied dance, piano, calligraphy and acrobatics at the California Institute of the Arts. She makes her living as a Pilates instructor and, also according to her team bio, "leads an eco-conscious lifestyle." For instance, think of all the greenhouse gases the Chargers avoided by not flying to the Super Bowl!

A Cosmic Thought: Recently astronomers from the University of Calgary proposed an explanation for the two brightest supernovas ever observed, designated SN 2005ap and SN 2006gy. The proposed explanation is that they happened when an extremely dense neutron star exploded and became a hypothesized object called a "quark star." SN 2006gy occurred about 240 million light-years away, and thus 240 million years in the past; SN 2005ap was nearly 5 billion light-years away, thus 5 billion years ago. Each shone 100 times brighter than the brightest regular supernova, and regular supernovae can themselves shine hundreds of times brighter than regular suns. If quark stars exist, they may hold about twice as much mass as our sun, but in an area only a few miles across. Our sun is 109 times larger than Earth, so the quark star would hold more mass than our sun in a thimble, compared to our sun's size. The stress of such confinement may cause neutrons to break down into quarks, the building block of matter. In theory a quark star could behave like one enormous subatomic particle, calling into question all manner of theories about the nature of matter, causation and space-time.

NASA
Quark star explosions are so powerful, they could distort space-time. Not that anyone has the slightest idea what that means.

TMQ takes delight in batting around the phrase "space-time." Everyone in astronomy and physics uses this phrase, though no one has the slightest clue what "space-time" means. In sci-fi novels by the physicist Gregory Benford, it's thousands of years into the future and researchers still don't know what "space-time" is, though they do call it "esty." (Slang for S-T.) This quark-star nova business, however, creeps me out. A neutron star detonating into a quark star would release untold levels of the worst kinds of radiation. Had SN 2005ap or SN 2006gy occurred in our galaxy, all life in the Milky Way might have ended.

Make Them Play in Disguise! Arizona is the home team of record for the Super Bowl, and thus got to choose jerseys; the Cardinals will wear red. Some touts are saying this is bad mojo, because Pittsburgh, which by Arizona's choice will wear white, was wearing white when it won the Super Bowl three years ago. But the Steelers are 2-0 in the Super Bowl when wearing white, and 3-1 when wearing black. Unless Arizona could have forced Pittsburgh to wear pink, the Cardinals had no way of maneuvering the Steelers into a corner, uni-wise.

Carlos the Jackal Sent the Times an Op-Ed, but Editors Found the Metaphors Inexact: Last week, to no notice in this country at least, Muammar Qaddafi penned a New York Times op-ed piece. He was identified by the paper only as the "leader of Libya" -- his formal title is Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution. In the 1970s and 1980s, Qaddafi used oil revenue to bankroll terrorists, including reportedly the Black September monsters who murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. In 1986, Ronald Reagan sent U.S. warplanes to attack Libya in an attempt to kill Qaddafi, who funded the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in retaliation, killing 270 innocent people. None of this was mentioned by the Times, which simply presented Qaddafi as a commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Qaddafi
Next year, Qaddafi will be at Sundance to premiere his new indie documentary.

Leopards can change their spots, and the past decade of Qaddafi's life has been different from what came before. Now he speaks out in opposition to terrorism -- something other Arab leaders just can't seem to get around to doing -- and in 2004 he voluntarily surrendered his atomic-weapons program, allowing inspectors to enter Libya and remove bomb research equipment. In a complex years-long court action, Qaddafi "accepted responsibility" for Libya's role in the Pan Am bombing; his government is paying reparations to families of victims of this and other terrorism killings. In return, last year the United States normalized diplomatic relations with Libya, while agreeing on compensation for families of Libyan victims of the 1986 U.S. attack. It's odd that the total transformation of Libyan international behavior, and U.S. policy toward Libya, has gone little-noticed in the United States. (It is much-discussed in other parts of the world.) As a Christian, I believe in redemptive power, so I am willing to believe Qaddafi has changed. Still, encountering the jarring sight of an op-ed by Muammar Qaddafi, I envisioned this scene:

FACTOTUM: (Trembling.) Brotherly Leader, we have received the read-back from the Times copy editor.

QADDAFI: Did it come on purest vellum?

FACTOTUM: Not exactly. Staples fax paper, I used an Internet coupon. (Hesitates.) The Times copy editor -- she changed a semicolon.

QADDAFI: Infidel! She will die for this! Have her buried in sand up to her head in the village quad, then let loose the scorpions!

FACTOTUM: (Shaking.) If you would deign to cast your magnificent gaze upon this PDF …

QADDAFI: (Takes the edited copy, reads.) Hey, she's right -- the sentence flows better now. Forget what I said. Send her a thousand red roses. Name a school after her.

FACTOTUM: (Immensely relieved.) Of course!

QADDAFI: Buy the entire day's press run. Also, tell the Times editors if they don't want anything to happen to their fancy new building, give me the crossword puzzle answers in advance. I like to dazzle people by doing the crossword really fast.

FACTOTUM: (Bows.) By your command.

Hidden Trade of the Year: Bill Parcells was the Dallas Cowboys' coach; when, a short time later, he became general manager at Miami, he traded a fourth-round draft pick to his old team for two gentlemen nailed to the Dallas bench since Parcells departed: tight end Anthony Fasano and linebacker Akin Ayodele. Both had fantastic seasons in 2008 for the Dolphins, who made the playoffs, while the Boys stayed home and tried to think of more things to whine about. When your former coach comes knocking offering value for players your current coach thinks can't play, maybe you should think again. One can almost hear Parcells on the phone: "It's not like they will start or anything, it's not like I know they are good, I just need warm bodies for special teams. Maybe you could talk me into a fourth-rounder if you threw in some tickets for my friends for Dallas playoff games."

Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pat Tillman and Bob Kalsu were heroes -- but the reason to remember them is totally unrelated to football.

Hall of Fame Update: For the 2008 Hall of Fame class that was inducted in August -- excuse me, "enshrined" -- Canton electors chose two linemen, two defensive backs, a receiver and a linebacker. Nary a quarterback or running back to be seen! But even with this welcome news, Canton still has 48 modern-era quarterbacks and running backs compared to 33 modern-era offensive linemen and 26 modern-era defensive linemen. Canton has 19 modern-era wide receivers, but only 14 modern-era defensive ends and 11 modern-era guards. The Hall of Fame is still way lopsided in favor of glory boys. During the upcoming Super Bowl week, Canton selectors will consider this year's finalists: nine linemen, four receivers, a linebacker and a defensive back. Nary a quarterback or running back to be seen! This is TMQ's kind of class.

Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson are sure-fire first-ballot selections, and to be a first-year Hall of Famer is max Canton status. Woodson is the best player ever at the cornerback position -- I'd take one Rod Woodson over 10 Deion Sanders. Plus, in addition to his NFL Network appearances, Woodson now toils as the defensive coordinator at a California high school, and you gotta love a guy of his stature who gives back by helping at the local high school. Purists will debate whether Smith or Reggie White was the best defensive end in NFL history; I'd give a slight edge to White. Regardless, Smith is in Canton on the first ballot. Smith is the all-time leader in sacks and was better against the run than he's given credit for -- in the Bills-Giants Super Bowl, he dropped O.J. Anderson for a loss on fourth-and-1 on what would have been the game's decisive play if the last-second field goal had gone in. Smith got his sack stats despite spending most of his career in a 3-4. In the 3-4, linemen tie up blockers while linebackers make the tackles and sacks. Pittsburgh plays a 3-4, and you can name the Steelers' linebackers, but can you name a Steelers defensive end? The football gods chortled when Julius Peppers threw his ego fit about wanting to move from the Panthers' 4-3 to a 3-4 team so that his sack stats would improve. In a 3-4, it's rare for the defensive end to get a sack! On Saturday in Tampa, they'll be yelling, "BRUUUUCE" when the Hall of Fame vote comes out, then again the next day during halftime of the Super Bowl.

Andre Reed
This is a Hall of Fame move?

One disputed finalist may be Smith's teammate, Andre Reed, a finalist for the third consecutive year, which means the judges are serious about him. Reed has an appealing story. He came from a small-college program, Kutztown University, and when he retired he had the third-most receptions, trailing only Jerry Rice and Cris Carter. Reed's accomplishment were compiled despite playing for a cold-weather team -- and during the no-huddle period, Jim Kelly's Bills actually rushed more often than they passed -- while Rice played for a warm-weather passing team and Carter played most of his career indoors with a dome team. Today with spread offenses putting up pinball numbers, Reed has slipped to the lower part of the career statistical top 10, and is sure to slip further as the years pass, though he still trails only Rice in postseason catches.

The Hall of Fame admission debate about Reed may include objections about Reed's sportsmanship. In Super Bowl XXVI he threw his helmet over a bad call, a totally unprofessional move that cost the Bills a field goal attempt while the game was close. In a 1998 playoff game at Miami, Reed became furious about a call and shoved an official, costing Buffalo a first-and-goal in a game ultimately lost by a touchdown. After his final game at Buffalo, in 1999, Reed publicly denounced his coach, Wade Phillips, for not making the game plan all about Andre Reed. Reed created this self-centered distraction as the Bills were preparing for a playoff appearance. In terms of personal story and on-field achievement, Reed was a football player to admire. Add sportsmanship, and there's a legitimate question about whether he belongs in Canton.

Pat Tillman's Sacrifice had Nothing to do With Football: Then there's the question of whether Pat Tillman should be inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame. He is not on this year's finalist list, but there is sentiment for granting him special recognition. Consider two points. First, during the Vietnam War, Bob Kalsu, like Tillman, voluntarily left the NFL, and like him was killed in action. Since World War II, Kalsu and Tillman are the sole NFL players to leave the league during their careers and die serving their country, and Kalsu is not in the Hall of Fame. (Donald Steinbrunner, who played briefly in the NFL in 1953, later became an Air Force pilot and died while serving in Vietnam.) Second, there is no way in which Tillman's life choice was -- as NBC announcer and Tillman-in-Canton backer Cris Collinsworth maintains -- "The essence of what the NFL and its players are all about." Tillman's decision to serve his country had absolutely nothing to do with the NFL or its players.

The NFL is an entertainment organization; its players are paid millions of dollars for chasing a ball. That's fine, but NFL performance should never be confused with any kind of heroism. Tillman was a patriot, motivated by love of country. He expressed strong misgivings about the Iraq war, but had no misgivings about the US of A, and unlike the many "chicken hawks" in politics and the media who pound the table about how somebody else should go fight, Tillman was willing to offer himself. That made him heroic in the everlasting sense: a hero is someone who takes risks, or endures sacrifice, in order to serve others. Tillman walked away from money -- what I believe the NFL is "about" -- to pursue something much higher. Perhaps Tillman and Kalsu should have their images in Canton; in an age that has devalued honor, they were men of honor. But each of these men made a difficult choice that had nothing to do with football. It would be offensive if pro football, through the Hall of Fame, pretended its players and coaches, paid vast amounts of money for making no sacrifice of any kind, could claim the reflected glory of two departed war heroes.

Today "The Gift Outright" Would Have Been Mocked on Letterman: As I listened to Elizabeth Alexander read her poem "Praise Song for the Day" at the Obama inauguration, my initial reaction was, "Robert Frost's reputation is safe." At the 1961 inauguration of John Kennedy, Frost moved the crowd to tears with his recitation of "The Gift Outright." Alexander did not exactly have that impact -- she drew puzzled glances and embarrassed laughs. Then again, when Frost spoke he was both one of the best-known persons of letters in American history, and also an old man (he died two years later) visibly struggling to speak in bitter cold, which engendered the crowd's sympathy. Alexander by contrast is an unknown except in academia, where she teaches gender studies at Yale.

Robert Frost
Robert Frost reciting from memory at age 86 during the 1961 Kennedy inauguration.

Then I compared and contemplated the two poems -- really, three -- from the 1961 and 2009 inaugurals. Here is "The Gift Outright." It is a common misconception that Frost wrote this for Kennedy; actually he wrote a much longer poem called "Dedication." But when Frost stood up to speak, glare from the snow that day made it impossible for him to read his own handwriting, so he scrapped "Dedication" and recited from memory a poem he wrote in 1942. "The Gift Outright" is about how North America always was meant to belong to Americans, not to England: "The land was ours before we were the land's." The poem speaks only of white Americans, skipping any mention of native people and slaves. It's a beautiful work, but you don't have to be politically correct to conclude that the poem is trapped in the white-male point of view: North America was "unstoried, artless, unenhanced" until white men arrived; not even Thomas Jefferson, who was fascinated by Native American history, thought that. In its favor, "The Gift Outright" pulls no punches. Referring to how the United States was forged, Frost wrote, "The deed of gift was many deeds of wars." That is a powerful, ironic statement in the poetic (not media-overused) sense, as no "gift" comes by killing.

What of "Dedication," the poem unread by Frost? Here it is. "Dedication" employs traditional rhyme schemes -- Alexander was criticized for blank verse, yet "The Gift Outright" was also blank verse. "Dedication" is far from Frost's best work. It's a light poem into which Frost injects himself: "Summoning artists to participate/in august occasions of the state/is something artists ought to celebrate." Some of the couplets are close to silly: "Everyone knows the glory of the twain/Who gave America the aeroplane." ("The twain" means the Wright Brothers.) "Dedication" goes farther than "The Gift Outright" in stamping unlimited endorsement on American government: "God nodded his approval of as good/so much those heroes knew and understood/I mean the great four, Washington, John Adams, Jefferson and Madison." God nodded approval at them? Not even Jefferson thought that! Dedication seems the work of a great artist whose powers were in decline and who wanted a pleasant poem for a grand event. Nothing wrong in that, but had Frost actually read "Dedication" that day, his appearance at the 1961 inauguration would have been forgotten.

Now what of "Praise Song for the Day"? It's here. The crowd wasn't ready for the unknown Alexander, was weary of standing in the cold, and wanted the parade to begin. Thus blank lines fell flat or drew titters, among them, "A teacher says, 'Take out your pencils. Begin.'" But other parts of the poem are powerful and oddly similar in spirit to Frost's younger work -- "Sign the praises of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of." OK, a professional poet should do better than "glittering edifices." But Alexander's poem was not the disappointment that late-night comics made it seem -- and Frost was lucky he spoke before instant Internet derision. Read and compare "Praise Song for the Day" with Frost's two poems; all three are enlightening.

Dante Lavelli
Barely over the outstretched hands of a defender to the great Dante Lavelli.

"Lavelli's Here? Let's Start a Flag Game," Said the Football Gods: Former Cleveland Browns star Dante Lavelli crossed the river last week at the age of 85. He caught 386 passes for 6,488 yards and 62 touchdowns from the late 1940s through the late 1950s, a period when most NFL teams viewed the forward pass as a last-ditch desperation ploy, not a fundamental strategy. Imagine what he and Don Hutson might have done in a shotgun spread offense! Note the accompanying Associated Press photo, in which Lavelli catches a touchdown pass that just barely clears the outstretched hand of a defender. Today TV announcers constantly say, "That pass just barely went over the defender's hand." TMQ's Official Brother Neil, a professor at seriously purple Texas Christian University, has long contended that in today's great-athletes NFL, all completed passes just barely get over someone's outstretched hand. Now visual proof this was the case even in the 1950s!

Let's Get in the Habit of Saying "Barack Hussein Obama": During the presidential contest, John McCain ordered his campaign and the Republican National Committee to make no reference to Barack Obama's middle name. Since the middle name was political quicksand for Obama, it showed McCain's fundamental personal decency that he would not exploit something over which his opponent had no control. But now that Obama has been sworn in as "Barack Hussein Obama," why not use the Hussein part? First, presidents traditionally are addressed -- if pompously -- by their complete names. Second, no baby in human history has ever been consulted before being named. Third, Barack Hussein Obama bore that name long before the words "Saddam Hussein" meant anything to anyone, including to Obama's parents.

Barack Obama
Americans should be proud they elected a man whose middle name is Hussein.

Some who use the Hussein part of Obama's name do so to imply he is Muslim, which is factually inaccurate. By adult choice -- all that matters in religion -- Obama is a Christian. Gov. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal of Louisiana was raised as a Hindu but by adult choice is a Christian; nobody thinks Jindal is a Hindu secret agent. Setting aside the factual inaccuracy of using "Hussein" to imply President Obama is a Muslim -- so what if he was a Muslim! Fanatical Muslims are a problem, but so are fanatical Christians and fanatical Jews. Most Muslims are God-fearing, law-abiding, neighbor-loving people. There are Muslims who bleed red, white and blue and get goose bumps when "The Stars and Stripes Forever" plays on the Fourth of July. There are going to be many more in the future. The point of America is that anyone, of any faith or background, can love this country. And be its president.

Countdown Continues to the Exciting Series Finale of "Battlestar Galactica" Complaints: In the latest episode we learned that Cylons existed 2,000 years ago, living in a society that looked exactly like the present-day United States, then destroyed themselves in a nuclear war -- and that all the Cylon characters on "Battlestar Galactica" are reincarnated from beings who were machines who believed they were people and who dwelled the long-ago-destroyed planet they believed was Earth. (Obviously the destroyed planet will turn out not to be Earth.) At the beginning of the current series, we were told the human beings of the opposite side of the galaxy created the Cylons, as robots, 40 years before events of the series began. Now we're told that actually Cylons have existed for millennia, being endlessly reincarnated. Desperate for material, "Galactica" is veering so far into unexplained mythic nonsense that it's beginning to make "Lost" and "Heroes" seem like models of clarity.

Battlestar Galactica
What if the Galactica of the 1970s series and the Galactica of the present series both arrived at Earth at the same time?

So let's forget the mythic nonsense and complain about vocabulary. In the campy original 1970s "Battlestar Galactica" series, the characters exclaimed "frak!" Producers declared "frak" wasn't a stand-in for the f-word, it was a completely unrelated term that only had meaning on the opposite side of the galaxy. Characters on the 1970s show also exclaimed "feldercarb!" It was an inside joke that the meaningless "feldercarb!" gave network censors of the 1970s a cover for letting the show use "frak!" Because it is brooding and forlorn, the new "Battlestar Galactica" series has kept "frak" but discarded "feldercarb." In the new series, "frak" is clearly a stand-in for the f-word: characters say "frak you" and "go frak yourself," etc. In the last season of episodes, the Cylons have also started saying "frak this" and "frak that," though they are incapable of reproduction! Are we to believe that between them, two super-advanced societies able to build enormous faster-than-light starcruisers can only think of one swear word?

Bankers and Wall Street Are Robbing You Blind, Yet Congress Does Nothing: I still can't understand how AIG, beneficiary of $152 billion in federal subsidies and loan guarantees, could get away with giving management $400 million in year-end bonuses for a year in which management did one of the worst jobs in financial history. That money was forcibly removed from your pocket and placed into the pockets of incompetent scoundrels -- yet Congress does nothing! Now it turns out federally subsidized Merrill Lynch, the Bank of America subsidiary given $20 billion of your money two weeks ago, lost $15.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008, and yet handed its senior managers $4 billion in bonuses. Four billion, not million, forcibly removed from your pocket -- or borrowed, with the bill handed to your children -- and put into the pockets of scoundrels who did a terrible, horrible, awful job. Merrill Lynch managers must be laughing out loud: They screwed up in a major way, and for screwing up were lavishly rewarded, while blameless federal taxpayers were punished. Why isn't our Democratic-led, supposedly populist Congress incensed about such abuses?

Unfortunately, I do understand -- because Congress is to blame for the abuses. Congress enacted October's $700 billion bailout of banks and Wall Street without including fraud provisions. At the moment of maximum leverage with banks and Wall Street, Congress simply handed over vast sums of your money without getting any accountability concessions in return. If a Pentagon contractor abuses federal money, if the vendor who supplies staplers and paper clips to the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center abuses federal money, federal prosecutors move in, because contracts issued by federal agencies have fraud clauses. The October deal by which Congress handed over hundreds of billions of dollars to banks and Wall Street doesn't contain fraud clauses!

The AIG and Merrill Lynch top dogs may be despicable, but it's legal for them to stuff your money into their pockets as bonuses. As Michael Kinsley once said, "The real scandal is what's legal." That billions of the $700 billion bailout fund are being looted directly in front of our eyes is legal, owing to the carelessness of Congress.

Gordon Gecko
Compared to the people running AIG, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, Gordon Gecko was a paragon of fiduciary responsibility.

So why isn't Congress in emergency session to amend the bailout law to allow prosecution for fraud or misappropriation of federal funds? Much of the $700 billion still is being handed out; with every day that passes, more of your money is transferred to Wall Street and banking-industry con artists without necessary legal protections. If bankers and Gordon Gecko knew they could be prosecuted for awarding themselves bonuses taken from public money, this behavior instantly would stop. In October it was a huge blunder for Congress to start handing out hundreds of billions of dollars without accountability clauses, but at least repetition of this blunder can be stopped now -- if Congress would act. That Congress does not act, but continues to give away your money without fraud protection, indicates members of Congress, Republican and Democrat alike, simply do not care how much of your money they waste. Many members of Congress only care about personal power and campaign donations. Giving away your money to people who are already rich helps members of Congress maintain personal power and assure themselves campaign donations. If Barack Obama is to be a successful president, he must realize fast that the Congress is the source of the fiscal "anything goes" problem he had decried.

Supposedly Wall Street and bank bonuses must be paid in order to keep top people from leaving Wall Street and banks. We want the top people to leave! They, after all, are the ones who melted down the financial markets; the avalanche of losses at Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill, Washington Mutual and other institutions was not caused by the Klingons. Here is a fine article by Michael Lewis on how Wall Street insiders couldn't possibly care less how much of their clients' money they lose, so long as they can manipulate the system to get bonuses. Reckless borrowing and too-small cash reserves set up banks and investment banks for a crash, but created short-term numbers that allowed managers to award themselves giant bonus checks. At least the monies invested and lost with Wall Street brokers were monies freely given. Since the bailout began in October, Wall Street managers and bankers have had access to a far larger pool of cash -- the federal Treasury -- to loot. That's exactly what they are doing, and Congress stands by.

Shortly after Barack Obama was sworn in, he complained of "lack of accountability" in federal handouts to banks and Wall Street. You're in charge now, do something about it! The lack of accountability did not pop out of a rift in the space-time continuum -- the problem is the direct result of carelessness by Congress. Fix the problem! Amend the legislation!

Unified Field Theory of Creep: Francois Aube of Montreal reports, "The three networks in Canada that will carry the 2010 Olympic winter games -- CTV, TSN and RDS -- already have the Olympic rings in their on-air logos. More than a year before the event."

Katie Stam
The new Miss America, Katie Stam, strikes a pose. Just don't get between her and the barbells.

Yo, Don't Mess with Miss America: That last week's Miss America competition was held in Las Vegas rather than Atlantic City, N.J., and aired on the obscure TLC channel rather than on network TV, surely tells you something about American culture. I just don't know what. But I do know what the swimsuit competition shows, which is that the willowy girl-next-door look has given way to the strong-female look. Here is the new Miss America, Katie Stam, a senior at the University of Indianapolis, in her swimwear pose. She's gorgeous, needless to say, and also has been hanging out at the gym -- you would lose a kickboxing match with her. Most of the women who took part in the swimwear event haven't just been using a stair climber, they've been over in the free-weights area lifting, along with the football players and the swimmers. No demur, wispy little things on stage for this year's competition; most of the contestants were sculpted. Here, even the semi-intellectual Huffington Post finds the parade of buff babes a reason for musing -- and for lots of pictures. Now we have Miss America contestants who can squat press and power clean. This really must be the 21st century!

Popcorn Optional: Planning to watch this Sunday? Of the 17 most-watched television events ever, 17 were Super Bowls. In 2008, 13 of the 15 most-watched network broadcasts and 14 of the 15 most-watched cable broadcasts were NFL games. September's Cowboys-Eagles "Monday Night Football" game was the most-watched broadcast in cable history, drawing a larger audience than the typical new episode of "CSI." And if you think football is popular now, buckle up. In 2002, the average NFL game drew 16 million viewers, while the average new episode in a prime-time network series drew 10 million. In 2008, the average was 17 million for an NFL game versus 9 million for a new episode in a prime-time series, a notable shift toward NFL entertainment. Football just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

US Airways
The pilots were great -- but why was there a three-page checklist in the first place?

Leftover US Airways Question: In the harrowing four minutes between when US Airways Flight 1549 lost power and its successful splashdown in the Hudson River, experienced glider pilot Chesley Sullenberger flew the plane while first officer Jeffrey Skiles tried to work through a three-page checklist of steps required for in-flight restart of engines. Obviously, Skiles had no hope of completing the task in time. But why were there instructions at all -- to say nothing of three pages? Aircraft flight-management computers could be loaded with software that immediately diagnoses the condition of the engines and performs the restart sequence whenever the flight deck sends an engine-restart command. No pilot could trust his memory on a three-page set of steps, but no pilot should have to: This is the kind of job that electronics do better than people. In distressing respects, today's cockpits apparently are often behind the curve of the chip-based technology in a typical teenager's pocket.

Leftover Curse Points: Many readers, including Marlene Mitchell of Nashville, Tenn., pointed out that after defeating the Steelers at home in Week 16, Titans players engaged in the immature stunt of stomping on the yellow towels of Steelers fans who came to the game. What happened next? Tennessee went 0-2 for the remainder of the year, blowing the AFC's top seed in the postseason. "Do not tempt the football gods," Mitchell writes. And many readers, including Clara Parke of Portland, Ore., noted that Brett Favre staged an embarrassing late-season meltdown in the same season in which his visage appeared on the cover of the new Madden game.

Running Up the Score Watch: For years TMQ has maintained that in cases of extreme running up the score it is the victor, not the vanquished, who should be mortified. For years TMQ has also maintained that high schools and colleges that condone or even applaud running up the score are violating their duty to teach character and sportsmanship. As noted by a huge number of readers including Mary Jennings of Dallas, finally a place of learning has acted as if it believed its own rhetoric regarding character. After the Covenant School defeated tiny Dallas Academy 100-0 at girls' basketball -- Dallas Academy has about 20 girls in the entire school, and has not won a girls' basketball game in four years -- the victors issued an apology. Covenant School called its own actions "shameful and an embarrassment." News reports said Covenant players were launching 3-pointers in the fourth quarter: The school admitted itself guilty of "victory without honor." Covenant fired the coach responsible for the debacle. If you're trying to beat up on a weak opponent, that says something about you -- and what it says is not flattering. At least Covenant School had the dignity to admit its poor behavior, and take action. Let's hear a round of applause for the person who made the admission, Kyle Queal, head of Covenant School. There are numerous high schools and colleges that should follow his good example.

The 2008 Tuesday Morning Quarterback All-Unwanted All-Pros: Each year, TMQ honors those gentlemen who became NFL success stories despite going undrafted, or being waived, or both. Here are the qualifications for my All-Unwanted All-Pros: A player must have been undrafted, or been waived, or been let go in free agency when his original club made no bona fide attempt to retain him. Players who left their teams via trade are not eligible, because the team received something of value in return; free agents whom their original teams wanted to retain, but could not for salary cap reasons, are not eligible. An asterisk means unwanted more than once. For example, Wes Welker gets an asterisk for being first undrafted, then waived by San Diego. But his trade from Miami to New England does not count for All-Unwanted purposes, since the Dolphins got a draft choice in return. If you think I've missed an outstanding performer who meets the All-Unwanted criteria, let me know at TMQ_ESPN@yahoo.com and I'll keep an eye on him next season.

A few of my All-Unwanted honorees also appear on the Pro Bowl teams bound for Hawaii. But while Pro Bowl recognition is based largely on rep and hype rather than actual performance -- Jason Peters? -- All-Unwanted recognition comes from effort and hustle. In a game, I would take my All-Unwanted squad over the Pro Bowl glory boys any day.

FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE

Offensive line: Willie Anderson, Baltimore (let go by Cincinnati as "washed up"); Tyson Clabo*, Atlanta (undrafted and waived by three NFL teams); Harvey Dahl, Atlanta (undrafted and waived by two NFL teams); Kevin Mawae*, Tennessee (let go by two NFL teams); Ikechuku Ndukwe*, Miami (waived by three NFL teams).

Tight end: Antonio Gates, San Diego (undrafted, did not play college football).

Justin Gage
Unwanted in Chicago, he's a top performer in Tennessee.

Wide receiver: Kevin Curtis, Philadelphia (walk-on at Utah State); Justin Gage, Tennessee (see below).

Fullback: Brad Hoover, Carolina (undrafted, played at Division I-AA Western Carolina).

Running back: Willie Parker*, Pittsburgh (undrafted, did not start as a college senior); Derrick Ward*, Giants (signed off the crosstown rival Jets' practice squad).

Quarterback: Kurt Warner*, Arizona (see below).

FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE

Defensive line: Bertrand Berry*, Arizona (waived by two NFL teams, played a season for the Edmonton Eskimos); Tony Brown*, Tennessee (undrafted, waived four times, played a season for the Amsterdam Admirals); Chris Clemons*, Philadelphia (undrafted, waived by two NFL teams); Cornelius Griffin, Washington.

Linebacker: London Fletcher*, Washington (see below); James Harrison*, Pittsburgh (undrafted, waived by the Steelers!); Bart Scott, Baltimore (undrafted).

Cornerback: Will Allen, Miami; Antonio Winfield, Minnesota.

Safety: Jim Leonhard*, Baltimore (undrafted, a walk-on at Wisconsin, let go by Buffalo after the Bills used a high first-round draft choice on safety Donte Whitner, a significantly worse player); Quintin Mikell, Philadelphia (undrafted).

SECOND-TEAM OFFENSE

Offensive line: Cooper Carlisle, Oakland; Kris Dielman, San Diego (undrafted); Roberto Garza, Chicago; Mike Gandy*, Arizona (totally outperformed megabucks defensive end John Abraham in playoffs); Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis (from undrafted to Pro Bowl, former Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP).

Tight end: Billy Miller*, New Orleans (waived by three teams, is a better tight end than teammate Jeremy Shockey).

Wide receiver: Derrick Mason, Baltimore; Wes Welker*, New England (undrafted despite numerous collegiate records at Texas Tech).

Fullback: Sean McHugh*, Pittsburgh (cut by the Lions on eve of the 2008 season; you're seriously Unwanted when you're cut by a team that goes 0-16!).

Running back: Ryan Grant*, Green Bay (undrafted, missed a season with injuries sustained when he fell into champagne glasses at a party); Fred Jackson*, Buffalo (undrafted from academics-oriented Division III Coe College, played for Sioux City Bandits of the United Indoor Football League).

Quarterback: Kerry Collins*, Tennessee (released by three NFL teams).

SECOND-TEAM DEFENSE

Defensive linemen: Jovan Haye*, Tampa (waived by two NFL teams); Juqua Parker*, Philadelphia (undrafted, waived by Tennessee); Trevor Pryce, Baltimore; Pat Williams*, Minnesota (from undrafted to Pro Bowl).

Linebacker: Stephen Cooper, San Diego (undrafted); Morlon Greenwood, Houston; Antonio Pierce*, Giants (undrafted, waived).

Cornerback: Fred Smoot*, Washington (unwanted and recycled, in his second tour with Redskins); Tramon Williams, Green Bay (undrafted, also special teams ace).

Safety: Ryan Clark*, Pittsburgh (undrafted, waived by two NFL teams); Clinton Hart*, San Diego (undrafted out of Central Florida Community College, played in the Arena League).

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker: Ryan Longwell*, Minnesota (undrafted and let go by two NFL teams, in 2008 was 6-for-6 on field goal attempts of 50 yards or more).

Punter: Kyle Larson, Cincinnati (undrafted, and owing to the awful Bengals offense, boomed a league-high 100 punts in 2008).

Returner: Josh Cribbs, Cleveland (undrafted despite being all-time total offense leader at Kent State); Clifton Smith, Tampa (undrafted).

Wedge blocker: Darrell Reid, Indianapolis (undrafted).

Kick defenders: Sean Morey*, Arizona (waived by three NFL teams, played at Brown in college, blocked the punt that won the Cardinals' overtime game against Dallas); Coy Wire, Atlanta (Falcons quietly set an NFL record for fewest punt return yards allowed).

Other Unwanted players to keep an eye on: defensive tackle Justin Bannan, Baltimore, let go by Buffalo after the Bills spent a first-round draft choice on defensive tackle John McCargo, a mega-bust who never started a game; receiver Davone Bess of Miami, undrafted, already performing better than many high-drafted receivers of 2008; receiver Antonio Bryant of Tampa, waived by three NFL teams, did not play in 2007 because he couldn't even get a training camp tryout; guard Nick Cole of Philadelphia, undrafted, in 2008 kept high-drafted offensive lineman Winston Justice on the dressed-but-did-not-play list; guard Dan Federkeil of Indianapolis, was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and attended the University of Calgary; safety Nick Ferguson of Denver, undrafted, was waived by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, did not get his first NFL start until age 28; defensive tackle Eric Foster of Pittsburgh, undrafted; center Justin Hartwig of Pittsburgh, let go by two NFL teams; Edgar Jones of Baltimore, undrafted from Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State, played defensive line, tight end and special teams this season; linebacker Akeem Jordan of Philadelphia, undrafted from Division I-AA James Madison; fullback Vonta Leach of Houston, undrafted and waived by two NFL teams; nickelback Anthony Madison of Pittsburgh, undrafted and twice waived; receiver Lance Moore of New Orleans, undrafted, scored 24 touchdowns as a high-school senior; tailback Sammy Morris of New England, cut by two NFL teams, the Patriots' leading rusher this season; fullback Lorenzo Neal of Baltimore, best blocking back in football history has now been waived by five NFL teams; fullback Mike Tolbert of San Diego, undrafted out of Coastal Carolina; guard Keydrick Vincent of Carolina, undrafted and let go by two NFL teams.

Now the awards, including two new ones for unwanted front-office types.

Unwanted Executive of the Year: General manager Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta. Dimitroff was fired as a scout by three NFL teams and also fired in the CFL before finding steady scouting work for New England. With the Patriots, he recommended little-known prospects including Ellis Hobbs, Asante Samuel and Dan Koppen. At Atlanta, his first big decisions were both home runs: draft Matt Ryan, trade into position to draft Sam Baker. Graduated from the University of Guelph: "Ranked as one of Canada's top comprehensive universities because of our commitment to student learning." Not just learning -- student learning!

Unwanted Head Coach of the Year: Tony Sparano, Miami. Coached at Division II University of New Haven and at one point had been fired by three NFL teams in three years before finding steady work as the Cowboys' offensive line coach in 2003. You know the rest. Graduated from New Haven, where the guidance office promises, "As a staff we strive to attend the majority of programs we are invited to."

Unwanted Player of the Year, Second Runner-Up: Kurt Warner, Cardinals. Undrafted out of Division I-AA Northern Iowa, waived by the Packers, three years in the Arena League, a year with the Amsterdam Admirals, a year on the bench at St. Louis, NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP in his first season as an NFL starter -- then his story gets interesting. Run of out town on a rail by the Rams, a year being booed with the Giants, signed with Arizona as veteran insurance and written off by touts and scouts. Now he's back in the Super Bowl. On those merits he could be Unwanted Player of the Year, but TMQ strives to honor non-quarterbacks and non-running backs. Note in this regard: Reader Matt Bruening of Plato Center, Ill., reports, "I just read Pro Football Weekly's article on the top 50 NFL players of 2008. Eleven are quarterbacks, one is an offensive lineman. So a third of the league's starting quarterbacks are top players, but only one of the 160 offensive linemen who start every week is a top player?" Just another of the many reasons TMQ likes to honor non-quarterbacks.

Unwanted Player of the Year, First Runner-Up: Justin Gage, Tennessee. Drafted by the Bears, spent four seasons in Chicago, starting 15 of 55 possible games and generally invisible. In two seasons at Tennessee, has 89 catches for 1,401 yards and eight touchdowns. This season, Kerry Collins repeatedly looked to Gage on clutch downs, and the Flaming Thumbtacks earned the AFC No. 1 seed. Has emerged as one of the NFL's best-disciplined, exactly-in-the-right-place wide receivers.

London Fletcher
The best NFL player never to appear in the Pro Bowl.

Unwanted Player of the Year: London Fletcher, Washington. Undrafted out of Division III John Carroll University, the 5-foot-10 Fletcher joined the Rams and helped guide St. Louis to two Super Bowl appearances. After four years, Les Mouflons let Fletcher go -- too small, Division III, he wasn't supposed to be good. Fletcher went to Buffalo; he arrived in 2002, and in 2003, the Bills had the league's second-ranked defense. After five years, Buffalo let Fletcher go -- too small, undrafted, he wasn't supposed to be good. Fletcher went to Washington, which last season finished fourth in defense, despite a no-name front seven. Since 2000, Fletcher has the most total tackles in the league. Fletcher has been Da Man everywhere he has played, yet never received a Pro Bowl nod. Three NFL middle linebackers don't come out on passing downs -- Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Fletcher. The first two are perennial Pro Bowl glory guys who do product endorsements on television. Arguably, London Fletcher is the best NFL player never to appear in a Pro Bowl.

Next Week: Awards season concludes with the 2008 Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP. Readers name their favorite puzzling Bruce Springsteen lyrics. Space aliens from across the local star cluster sign petitions demanding the NFL Sunday Ticket monopoly be ended so they can watch "Kurt Warner" games live instead of tape-delayed 300 light-years.

Plus -- that Super Bowl thing you might have heard about.