For the second consecutive year, a dominant, smothering defense prevailed in the Super Bowl, proving that in this era of quick-snap scoreboard-spinning tactics, defense still trumps offense.
Last year, it was the Seattle Seahawks' defense. This year, the New England Patriots' defense. Tom Brady's exploits and records inevitably draw the headlines. Defense is what brought the Patriots their latest Lombardi.
TMQ's Law of Comebacks holds: Defense starts comebacks, offense stops them. This diktat was on display in the Patriots' Super Bowl comeback.
Not only did New England's defense seal the deal by stopping Seattle at the goal line with 20 seconds remaining, but it also started the comeback. From the point at which Seattle took a two-score lead late in the third quarter, its possession results were: punt, punt, punt, interception. Two of the final four Seattle possession were three-and-outs.
From the juncture of that Seattle two-score lead, for the remainder of the contest New England's defense allowed just four first downs. Just four first downs against the league's No. 1 rushing attack, a team that excels at moving the chains. Defense starts comebacks, offense stops them. Had the defending champions done anything that all on the three punt possessions before their final last-minute charge, the Patriots' comeback would have been deflated. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Not only did New England's defense win the Super Bowl but it also got the Patriots to the Super Bowl. New England had to stage a divisional-round comeback versus Baltimore. Patriots down 28-14 early in the second half, the defense allowed just three points for the reminder of that contest. At the championship round, New England won easily: but the 45 points scored were less important than the mere seven points allowed to Indianapolis, a high-scoring team.
In fact the most important stat of the 2014 NFL season may be this one, regarding New England's defense: The Patriots did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in their final nine games. Teams that don't let opponents score in the fourth quarter are teams that win trophies.
Many aspects came together for the Patriots' defense to shine down the stretch -- great athletic performances from Jamie Collins, Rob Ninkovich and Devin McCourty; the arrivals of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner; players nobody else wanted, including Alan Branch and the undrafted, four times-waived Sealver Siliga; complicated schemes from little-recognized New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who cut his coaching teeth at Division III elite-academic Amherst College. Officially, New England plays a 3-4 front, but Ninkovich can be anything from a 4-3 down defensive end to dropping deep into coverage. Sometimes a nickel back lines up as middle linebacker. (Brady may be so obsessed with shouting out the identity of the opposition middle linebacker presnap because, in practice, he never knows who the middle linebacker will be.) For much of the Super Bowl, Patricia employed a 3-3-5 defense even on expected rushing downs, and it seemed to flummox both Russell Wilson and Seattle's coaches.
Defense won the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season -- and this time it was a defense that wasn't on anyone's radar.
Now that the field lights are turned off, the film rooms are dark and the cheerleaders have put their miniskirts away in very small drawers, Americans will turn their gaze to other sports. But what are "sports"? See below.
In other sports news, who produces better NFL teams -- red states or blue states? See Tuesday Morning Quarterback's annual State Standings below.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 1: Six of the past eight Super Bowls were decided by a touchdown or less.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 2: From the start of the fourth quarter, Seattle had outscored opponents 37-13 in the postseason -- then was outscored 14-0 in the Super Bowl by New England.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 3: Seattle became just the fourth team to lose the Super Bowl despite being plus in the turnovers category.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 4: New England won the Super Bowl despite being outrushed by 105 yards and despite having a team rushing leader with 412 yards, fewest of any team leading rusher in the league during the regular season.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 5: Taking into account trades, in the 2014 draft, 10 first-round selections were invested in quarterbacks and receivers. No first-round drafted quarterback or receiver was on a Super Bowl roster.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 6: This season, when New England or Seattle won the coin flip that starts a game, they were 19-2; when losing the flip, were 10-7.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 7: Seattle's first-ranked pass defense, which held Aaron Rodgers to 178 yards passing in the NFC title game, allowed Tom Brady 328 yards and four touchdown passes.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 8: Between the NFC title game and the Super Bowl, Seattle's pass defenders were on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 9: Seattle allowed two fourth-quarter touchdowns for the first time since September.
Stats Of The Super Bowl No. 10: Discounting for deliberate kneel-downs, New England scored on 16 of 32 possessions in the postseason.
Sweet Play Of The Super Bowl: Reaching the Seattle 4-yard line in the fourth quarter, New England threw a "pivot" to Julian Edelman, who misplayed the ball, incompletion. Reaching the Seattle 3 on the next possession, New England called the same pattern to the same guy -- for the winning touchdown.
Sour Plays Of The Super Bowl: Leading 24-14 near the end of the third quarter, Seattle reached third-and-2 on the New England 47. The Seahawks have the league's No. 1 rushing attack and best power back, Marshawn Lynch. There seems no chance the Patriots could have prevented Lynch from gaining two yards on consecutive rushes. Instead Seattle lines up empty backfield, taking a Lynch run out of the equation, and throws incomplete. The clock stops and the chains don't move. Bluish Men Group offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell didn't just make a weird decision to throw at the New England 1-yard line at the game's end, rather than hand the ball to the league's best power back, he made the same weird decision on this down.
Then on fourth-and-2, the Seattle Seahawks punted in opposition territory in the Super Bowl. This weird decision is on Pete Carroll.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Leading 28-24, with a minute left in the 2014 season, New England had defending champion Seattle facing second-and-goal on the 1-yard line, holding a timeout, possessing the league's No. 1 running attack. Three was sufficient clock for Marshawn Lynch to stage three power rushes, and it's difficult to believe any defense could stuff three straight Lynch rushes when only a single yard was needed. New England's Super Bowl-clinching interception was sweet. It was doubly sweet that undrafted who-dat Malcolm Butler made the interception. It was triply sweet that during the Super Bowl, Butler also had three passes defensed -- the best such number in a contest that featured star defensive backs Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. It was quadruply sweet that in the Patriots' two previous postseason games, Butler had a grand total of 14 snaps.
Seattle's decision to throw, rather than give the league's best power back three tries to gain one yard, will go down as among the all-time bone-headed decisions in sports annals. That was sour. Doubly sour was that New England lined up with only four defensive linemen and middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower more than five yards off the line of scrimmage. Hightower lined up in the bar of the H in "SEAHAWKS" painted in the end zone. Your columnist has no clue why he was so far off the line when Seattle needed to gain only one yard. But his position meant that if Seattle had simply done the obvious and run up the middle, at the point of attack there would have been five blockers and a power back versus four defenders.
Triply sour was the pass wasn't a play fake! Seattle made no attempt to draw the defense toward Lynch. Malcolm Butler, who intercepted, could jump the route because he knew from the snap the down was not a run. Ricardo Lockette and Jermaine Kearse were in a "stack" on the right. On a quick combo move, the ball always goes to the second who cuts beneath the first man, who sets a pick. Between no play fake and Lockette being the second guy in a combo, Butler knew the call was a slant to Lockette -- so he jumped the route and won the Super Bowl.
Sweet and sour postscript: In the 2012 Super Bowl, Bill Belichick deliberately let the Giants score in order to give Tom Brady a minute of clock time to try to go the other way. In that case, Jersey/A trailed by two points and could kneel three times, then win the game with a field goal. In this case Seattle trailed by four points and had to get a touchdown. Trying to stop the touchdown made more sense than allowing it, then hoping the Patriots could get a field goal to force overtime,
TMQ's Presidential Field Shrinks by One: TMQ had been planning an item for this column on how my ideal 2016 presidential field would be Democrat Gina Raimondo versus Republican Scott Walker -- both governors who have confronted interest groups to deal with fiscal problems, rather than endlessly kick the can down the road. That pairing seemed to promise a real debate about what TMQ thinks is the next great challenge facing the nation -- fixing its books.
Then many readers, including Janet Brenner of Madison, Wisconsin, reported Walker proposed a public giveaway to the NBA on the same day he proposed to cut education funding. Walker's plan is a $220 million handout to the Milwaukee Bucks coupled to a $300 million reduction in the state university system that serves children from average families.
Subsidies for the rich, budget cuts for the average: Cross Walker off the list of potential national leaders. As for his daffy claim that Wisconsin would come out ahead by giving money to the NBA, that was the claim about sports facility subsidizes in Glendale, Arizona, too. How'd that work out for you?
New York Times Corrections On Fast-Forward: In the past six months the Paper of Record has, according to its corrections page
Said a serving of Burger King fries has 480 grams of salt. That's more than a pound: correct was 480 milligrams.
Erred regarding "a facial coding expert who reads the faces of athletes to determine if they have the right emotional attributes."
Clarified that Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif did not accuse himself of "corruption and incompetence."
Ran an epic 192-word correction about exactly when Gary Hart said "follow me around."
Confused the girlfriend of the governor of New York with the lieutenant governor of the state. "You told the New York Times WHAT???"
Incorrectly declared the economics minister of France married his elementary school teacher.
Clarified that the University of Indiana does not exist.
"Referred incorrectly" to what beavers do with their dams.
Falsely accused a maker of "exquisite bespoke footwear" of charging $85,000 for a pair of shoes.
Mistook Shaquille O'Neal's former girlfriend for his current girlfriend. "You told the New York Times WHAT???"
For the eighth consecutive year since TMQ started doing a New York Times corrections item, confused a million with a billion.
Referred incorrectly to "the sexuality of most plants."
"Misspelled the name of a creature in the 'Star Wars' universe. It is a Wookiee, not a Wookie". Someone must have called to complain from a galaxy far, far away.
Attributed the dictum that those who don't know history are destined to repeat it to the wrong historian. Those who do not fact-check are destined to retract!
Confused "muscular swipes" with "Rothko-esque patches."
Unintentionally discredited Einstein.
For the eighth consecutive year, mistook a woman for a man.
Became confused about who's on first.
An article "described bald eagles and ospreys incorrectly. They eat fish and their poop is white; they do not eat berries and excrete purple feces." The inaccurate reference to bird poop appeared on the op-ed page.
Offered "our sincerest apologies" for referring to a place of business as "a sorry store." Correct was "a sari store."
"Misstated the former title of Dick Cheney. He was vice president, not president." At last that's cleared up!
Admitted quoting as if fact material from a satire. The subject? Kim Kardashian's derrière.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP: This year's winner is linebacker Bobby Wagner of the Seahawks, who took 47 percent of the reader vote, besting linebacker Rob Ninkovich of the Patriots at 33 percent. Dan Connolly of the Patriots and Doug Baldwin of the Hawks were the also-rans at 10 percent each, and a good thing in the latter case considering the knuckleheaded penalty Baldwin drew in the Super Bowl.
It's the second consecutive year this distinction has gone to a Seattle defender. Richard Sherman won last season.
What Is Sport? Everyone agrees that football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, field hockey and a few other team games are sports. Track and field and competitive swimming are sports. The Olympics says that weightlifting, ice dancing, mountain biking and biathlon -- skiing with a rifle -- are sports.
Because the words "sports" and "athletics" have such high standing in contemporary society, the sense of what's considered a sport or viewed as an athletic challenge, continually inflates. Most people would call golf a "sport," though golfers rarely break a sweat and have caddies to shoulder the load of their clubs. Bowling is viewed as a "sport" -- skill is involved but if it's a sport, then so is badminton. ESPN places the mantle of "Worldwide Leader in Sports" on poker and on spelling bees, which are mentally taxing but entail no physical effort. Table tennis requires great reflexes -- does that make pingpong a sport?
NASCAR, Formula One and other types of car racing are viewed as sports. They are dangerous and physically taxing, but it's the motors, not the drivers, that provide the muscle. (As part of a Super Bowl event, last weekend I drove a McLaren at 120 mph on a racetrack: it was mildly stressful but sure didn't turn me into an athlete.) ESPN The Magazine (Published on Earth the Planet) featured a nude pictorial of Funny Car driver Courtney Force, praising her for being able to handle "a 10,000-horsepower machine." That does sound difficult, but is handling a powerful machine a "sport"? If so, then pilots and excavator operators are athletes.
Robert Morris University of Illinois now offers "athletic" scholarships for video gaming -- how long until the first Xbox recruiting scandal? Some colleges consider fishing a sport -- how long till the first scandal about improper flies? Next summer, at least 10,000 spectators are expected for a video game tournament. Millionaire Chess is "committed to revolutionizing the chess tournament" by making it like poker plus the Benko Gambit. The New York Times covers the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in the sports section, perhaps because jumping over obstacles makes the dogs athletes? Competitive cheer tournaments have been viewed as a sport for a while; now the American Medical Association considers all cheerleading, including the traditional sideline variety, to be a sport.
Society admires athletics and is hooked on the word sports. But at the current rate there seems no reason anything that involves completing a timed task while moving one's body or even just speaking won't end up being viewed as sports.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback proposes this rule: a "sport" is an activity that produces a winning person or team and that leaves the participants exhausted. Everything else is either recreation or a test of skills.
Unified Field Theory Of Creep: Reader Nick Riehl of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, reports, "Golf Digest recently released its list of greatest courses for 2015 and 2016. The 2016 list appeared in the February 2015 issue, which was of course delivered in January 2015."
TMQ's Voice Mail: Thank you for calling Tuesday Morning Quarterback Enterprises. Please listen carefully as our options change at random. Your call may be recorded for quantity assurance purposes. Daŭrigi en esperanto, premu 1. To be misquoted, press 2. To be quoted accurately but out of context, press 3. If you have a theory involving Bill Belichick, the run on the Swiss franc and the disappearance of Flight 19, press 4. To submit a proposal for a 9,000-word column that might have something to do with football, press 5. To be disconnected, press 6. At the conclusion of the call you may hang up. Though if you didn't know that, we don't want to talk to you.
Iron Man Sings a Romantic Duet with Pepper Potts: Batman, Iron Man, the X-Men, Captain America -- they've sold lots of movie tickets. How long till they have their own Broadway musicals? Spiderman got a musical that ran on Broadway for more than two years. "Flashdance," "Dirty Dancing," "The Bodyguard," "Elf" and other movie-based musicals have been to or hope to reach Broadway or the West End. Imagine the numbers list from a Batman musical:
"Gotham After Dark" -- overture
"Beneath My Cape" -- Bruce Wayne, Alfred
"When the Signal Shines" -- Batman (solo)
"In the Hideout Where I Lurk" -- Penguin, dancing henchmen
"Take Your Mask Off for Me" -- Rachel, Vicki, Selina and chorus girls
"First We Banter" -- Batman, Penguin
"Curses He Foiled Me Again" -- cast
TMQ would like to see a "Flashdance" sequel in which it's 25 years in the future, everyone in Pittsburgh has a white-collar job, and a beautiful, spirited young woman chases her dream of becoming a steelworker. There are only 10 steelworkers left in Pittsburgh, and admission to their guild is tightly controlled by a committee. Her friends want her to abandon her dream and accept that she'll never be anything more than a deputy associate administrator. Then she meets this stud rich guy who -- well, maybe it will work better as a musical.
Who Ordered the Skim Latte With No Coffee? Of course television shows have ridiculous plots. But shouldn't the physical aspects make sense? Such as, say, the distance between locations be realistic? Recently on "NCIS: Los Angeles," the heroes traveled from Los Angeles to Tunisia and back in about 15 minutes.
Often on television, characters waive around Starbucks-style coffee cups that are obviously empty props. Cops show up for work looking disheveled and holding a coffee cup that has a lid but doesn't seem to weigh anything or radiate heat -- there's no sleeve around the cup. On "The Flash," superhero love interest Iris West arrives with coffee cups in a cardboard shell that she holds sideways -- they don't fall out or, apparently, weigh anything. And Iris's job is running a coffee bar! On "Madam Secretary," the beleaguered assistant enters with the two tall Starbucks that the Secretary of State ordered -- they don't have sleeves yet don't hurt his hand, and he waves them around as he makes a point. The Southwest Airlines ad shows an eager-to-please intern on an airport's moving sidewalk with a cardboard container of four large coffee cups. He holds the container by the corner, which could only happen if the cups had no weight because they were empty. Prop departments, put hot water in those coffee cups!
On television and in the movies, weapons are fired in enclosed spaces without anyone's ears ringing. On "Justified," there's a five-person gun battle in the small baby-nursery room of a house. Dozens of bullets fly; two seconds after the last bad guy dies, the good guys converse normally. On "Under the Dome," the big-bad character sets off a hand grenade inside a small 1950s-style bomb shelter. Not only is he unharmed by the overpressure, his ears don't ring. On the mercifully canceled "The Bridge," some bad guys have a shootout in a cramped tunnel used to smuggle drugs from Mexico into Texas. Five seconds after discharging weapons in a tunnel, characters converse normally. "NCIS: Los Angeles" tops them all with an extended gun battle inside a submarine -- yet everyone's ears are totally fine.
Then there's television addiction to cell phones. Somehow directors have come to believe it's dramatic to talk on cell phones -- maybe because Hollywood deals are made by shouting into cell phones while stuck in traffic on the I-10. TV mobsters discuss their plans in detail via cell phone, terrorists chat nonstop on cell phones, secret agents yak on cell phones. On NBC "State of Affairs," the imaginary CIA director uses his cell phone to discuss national security information, including operational code names. True, during the David Petraeus scandal, the nation learned that the actual CIA director did not know email accounts can be hacked. But your columnist is guessing not many people in the intelligence community talk about state secrets over cell phones.
Rich People -- Stop Giving To The Top 10! TMQ for years has pounded the table about the rich giving to the Ivy League and Stanford, which don't need money, rather than to the many colleges where donations might change lives. Here is a 2008 item on this topic and here was this fall's iteration.
Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that 17.5 percent of the $37.5 billion donated to colleges and universities in 2014 went to the top 10 schools, led by Harvard and Stanford. These colleges don't need money; they already have more than is good for society. Yet last year Harvard received $1.1 billion in donations, Stanford reeled in $930 million, the top 10 received $6.55 billion in total. If, as is likely, the donors were top-rate earners and deducted their gifts, this means rich people actually put up $4.25 billion while taxpayers covered the other $2.3 billion.
At the bottom of the story: average gifts to a college or university last year totaled $1.7 million. This means typical colleges that serve students from ordinary backgrounds received $1 for every $647 given to Harvard.
Arizona Recap: In the regular season, the Patriots were good-not-great at passing. An average of 258 passing yards per game put New England behind several non-playoff teams statistically. Then came the postseason: terrific outings for Tom Brady, his motley crew of receivers and his outstanding offensive line versus Baltimore and Indianapolis. At the Super Bowl, Brady put up 328 yards passing against the always-boasting league's No. 1 passing defense, including 8-for-8on the Super Bowl-winning drive.
With 11 minutes remaining, Seattle had a 24-14 lead and New England faced third-and-14 deep in its territory. The Patriots looked as beaten as a good team can look -- and Seattle looked seriously overconfident. New England converts on Brady's favorite pass of 2014, the short crosser to Julian Edelman. How could Seattle not have been expecting this? Now it's third-and-8, again New England converts to Edelman short over the middle. The Patriots score to pull within 24-21; their defense holds the defending champions to a three-and-out. Now New England faced second-and-11 and converts on a seam route to Rob Gronkowski. A moment later New England faces second-and-10 and again converts on a seam route to Gronkowski. Four times in the fourth quarter, Seattle's storied defense allowed the Patriots to convert long-yardage deficits.
New England's second touchdown of the game came on a 22-yard go route to Gronkowski. He split far wide, covered by weakside linebacker K.J. Wright, no safety nearby. Presnap, your columnist pointed toward Gronkowski and shouted, "That matchup is a touchdown for New England!" (I have witnesses.) How did Earl Thomas, the safety on that side, fail to notice? Thomas cheated up as if expecting run. Gronkowski was lined up along the Seattle sideline -- he could have reached out and shaken hands with Seahawks coaches. Why didn't they call timeout? The score was a great play for New England; the Seattle alignment and coaching breakdown was the first indicator of what would become for the defending champions a night to forget.
For the rest of the game, Thomas covered Gronkowski when he split far wide, neutralizing him as a deep threat. So Josh McDaniels shifted Gronkowski inline, where he doesn't normally play much, and used him as a pass blocker for a while. By the fourth quarter, the Seahawks had forgotten about him, opening things up for his two big catches on seam routes.
As for what went wrong for Seattle -- where to start? Yes, the Bluish Men Group lost two defensive starters to injury, but every NFL team must deal with injuries. Neither Thomas nor Kam Chancellor made a big play all night. Richard Sherman did not play aggressively at the line, instead backpedaling or lining up "soft." Bruce Irvin missed a tackle in the backfield that allowed Julian Edelman to turn a negative into a nice gain. At the start of the New England winning drive, Tharold Simon badly missed a tackle, allowing an 8-yard gain that led to a first down.
When Seattle had the ball, it wasn't just the weird decisions to throw on short-yardage downs. From the point Seattle took 24-14 lead, Russell Wilson, the most effective running quarterback in professional football, did not carry the ball. During the regular season, Wilson ran for more yards than the leading rushers of 16 teams. To the point that Seattle led 24-14, Wilson was averaging 13 yards per carry. Three times from that juncture on, Wilson handed to Lynch on the zone read when he should have kept the ball and gone outside because the Patriots had no contain man opposite the playside. Had Wilson simply kept the ball and run for 20 yards on any of those three chances, the fourth-quarter dynamic would have been very different.
Disclaimer Of The Super Bowl: Reader Oscar Sanchez of Queretaro, Mexico, notes the label for strawberry Pop Tarts says, "Baked with real fruit." What's the difference, he asks, between fruit and real fruit?
Final State Standings: TMQ's annual state standings judges teams based on where they perform -- the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons in Maryland, the Giants in New Jersey and so on. Note that of the traditional prep football hotbed states -- California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas -- Florida finished second from last, and only one posted a playoff victory. The top two finishers hailed from Massachusetts and Washington, among the most liberal states in the union; professional football's top four finishers hailed from states that voted Democratic in the 2012 presidential election.
Arizona, Michigan: 11-6
Pennsylvania, Texas: 21-12
New York: 9-7
North Carolina: 8-9-1
Louisiana, Minnesota: 7-9
Illinois: 5-11, New Jersey 10-22
Concussion Watch: For several years, including in my 2013 book "The King of Sports," I've contended organized youth tackle football should not be played. Flag football is a tremendous game, and ought to be the focus of youth leagues: pads and helmets should not go on until eighth grade. It's fun for 10-year-olds to dress up as NFL stars, just like it's fun for them to dress up as astronauts or knights. But little kids dressing up as NFL stars endangers their heads -- which cannot be good in a society that places ever-increasing significance on education.
For years I've been saying don't believe me, believe Archie Manning, who did not allow Peyton and Eli to don pads until they were in seventh grade. Apparently Archie knew pediatric research shows the brain case is too soft before then, the head too large relative to the body: little kids are more vulnerable to neurological harm than late teens. I've said don't believe me, believe the Virginia Tech research that shows pee-wee football players sustain disturbingly violent head impacts.
Now I will add don't believe me, believe this new Boston University study, just out in the technical journal Neurology. Researchers found that middle-aged former NFL players who participated in organized tackle football before age 12 performed "significantly worse" on basic tests of cognitive function than similar former NFL players who did not play youth tackle. Former NFL players receive far more blows to the head than boys (and a few girls) who play youth tackle but then don't advance in football. And the study group was exposed to the relatively barbaric conditions of half a century ago: Today's youth coaches are more aware of head trauma risk than those of the past. Nevertheless this finding should be worrisome.
Little kids clearly have a good time dressing up like NFL stars -- and the adults running the show like to pretend they are Don Shula. But the risk/reward aspect of youth tackle football is all wrong. The NFL should stop lending its shield to youth tackle leagues no matter how well run. Former NFL players should stop endorsing youth tackle. If the NFL and its former players would confer prestige only on flag football, hundreds of thousands of kids would benefit.
NFL Players Who Don't Like The Sports Media Don't Understand Sports Economics: In the run up to the Super Bowl, Marshawn Lynch received a huge amount of attention for insisting he just wanted to be left alone. If he'd actually just wanted to be left alone, he would have gone to the podium, offered a few sports platitudes -- "the Patriots are a fine, fine football team" -- and everyone would have left him alone. By making a great show of appearing in very dark glasses and ignoring questions, Lynch drew attention to himself. Which, one presumes, was what he wanted all along.
Many pro athletes don't like having to face the media; Bill Belichick* doesn't like to, Roger Goodell doesn't like to. Their contracts require them to, because professional sports fundamentally are a form of entertainment, and fans find the media conferences entertaining. (Lord knows why.) Many players came from high school and college environments where the local sports media consisted mainly of homers: scandals were downplayed, the toughest question was, "How do you explain your brilliant success?" At the NFL level, players can be surprised to encounter sharp questions and hostile tones.
Not, certainly, because NFL games are more important than prep or college contests -- NFL games are strictly entertainment, the outcomes are irrelevant to society. It's just that at the NFL level, the sports reporters are at the top of their profession, too. They ask tough questions. Most players and coaches learn it's the path of least resistance to play along, even when the questions veer into the absurd. Smart players and coaches discover that beginning a media conference by bantering with reporters about their careers rapidly turns them from attack dogs to lap dogs.
Then there are the players who would radiate hostility toward the sports media, such as Lynch. In 2009, he was suspended by the league for three games. Lynch seemed to expect sports reporters would act like team publicists and change the subject; instead he got abrasive questions. Since then, including last week at Super Bowl media events, he has accused the sports media of printing lies about him: "You all can go make up whatever you're going to make up." I'd venture a guess Lynch actually does not know what the sports media is saying about him because he doesn't read the newspaper. He may prefer to believe himself the victim of some vast sports-media conspiracy.
The odd thing is that Lynch has a sense of humor, as he displayed in his Skittles parody. If he'd only show that humor at a media conference, the ice would melt. Instead he says things like this from last week, when he was supposed to take questions: "I come to you all's event, you shove cameras and microphones down my throat. I ain't got nothing for you all." Reporters and spectators don't get angry at Lynch when he expects them to attend games: for him to get angry when he's expected to fulfill a contractual obligation involving cameras and microphones shows bad manners. At media conferences Lynch acts like a spoiled brat, which reflects poorly on him and his team.
When Thurman Thomas couldn't find his helmet at a Super Bowl, then the Bills lost, for a while he was angry at the media because reporters kept bringing this up. One day he walked into a media conference with a basket of miniature helmets that he handed out to reporters, and told a couple jokes about himself. For the rest of his career, Thomas had the sports media eating out of his hand: When it was time to cast Hall of Fame votes, Thomas got a landslide of votes. Somebody in the Seahawks' organization should tell this story to Lynch.
The Comet Kohoutek Of Blizzards: Snowfall totals are notoriously difficult to predict. But last week's sky-is-falling treatment of the approaching northeast blizzard was revealing of political and media cultures.
"At least 28 million Americans are in the zone of a potentially crippling storm," a Weather Channel announcer said the morning of the expected snow. By evening, CNN's breaking-breaking-breaking red crawl upped the ante considerably: 58 MILLION IN PATH OF HISTORIC STORM. The Los Angeles Times printed predictions the northeastern United States could be shut down "for days." The Huffington Post upped the ante with a man-lands-on-moon type-size headline declaring REGION COULD BE SHUT DOWN ALL WEEK, linking, for support, to the Los Angeles Times piece saying "for days." The normally staid National Weather Service called the storm "potentially historic," forecasting as much as 20 inches of snow in Central Park. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio warned of "a storm the likes of which we have never seen before."
Instead Central Park got 9 inches. Inland areas of Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts were blanketed by significant snowfall, while a coastal Massachusetts town had flooding from storm surge and electricity failed on Nantucket. So it was a serious storm -- just not the forecasted calamity for the nation's largest city. That made what happened the Comet Kohoutek of blizzard predictions.
Chris Christie and de Blasio were among politicians who made dramatic state-of-emergency announcements while flanked by macho-looking men in heavy jackets. "[The storm is] going to come in very fast and very hard, and people have to be very, very careful," de Blasio said at an early evening news conference, warning the situation was so dire, even going out for walk could become life-threatening. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered New York City's subways shut down because of snow, a first in the system's 111 years. Snow was expected underground! Theatrical emergency declarations make governors and mayors seem important: They're great to clip from for campaign commercials.
State and local politicians love to declare a "state of emergency" because this usually triggers extra federal subsidies. After Sandy, which hit the same region in autumn 2012, Congress authorized $60 billion in special subsidies, mostly to New Jersey and New York. That's a huge pot of funny-money for local politicians to dip into. How much Sandy cash has actually gone to needed work such as flood barriers? Christie, de Blasio and other regional leaders knew last week that promoting a sense of Sandy-class disaster might open another federal cookie jar.
The media incentive was straightforward: TV likes drama, and storms are dramatic. CNN had Erin Burnett broadcasting from out on the street bundled up as if ready to go EVA from the space station, though only light flurries were falling around her; had Anderson Cooper out on the street hatless, showing off his snow-colored locks. The Weather Channel had 10 correspondents outdoors around New York and New England, dressed as though about to ascend K2. Some of their reports were featured on NBC, which owns 25 percent of The Weather Channel and has an incentive to promote the sense of weather doomsday. The following afternoon, with the excitement over, The Weather Channel struggled to sustain the feel of approaching cataclysm. A correspondent doing a live outdoor standup from Boston Common, light flurries around, pointed into the distance and declared, "If the blizzard had hit you wouldn't be able to see those buildings over there. But, you can see them."
Media outlets hyperventilate about weather because this seems a compelling reason to keep your television or newsradio turned on. Senior citizens, a key demographic for daytime television, often pay close attention to reports of bad weather, even if on the opposite side of the nation. With scripted shows increasingly available on the Internet, what regular television still has is live events -- sports, news, weather. Mary Elizabeth Williams breaks down the media dynamic of snoverkill.
Last week's political and media storm alarms were not some rarity. In March 2013, a Washington Post headline read: "Heavy snowstorm to hammer Washington area." The Fox local news broadcast that evening had flashing red breaking-breaking-breaking bars: "This will be a major snowstorm," the anchor declared. A little more than an inch fell. In June 2013, CBS Evening News led its broadcast with a run-for-the-hills warning of "a major severe weather event that could affect one American in five." What happened was a lot of thunderstorms and some power outages.
Perhaps it's better that newscasters and politicians issue exaggerated warnings about weather than for the public to be complacent. But your columnist thinks the underlying dynamic is longing, on the part of the media and political establishments, for bad news. Bad news makes for ratings, and justifies increased government power plus more subsidies.
Wacky Food Of The Week: If you have 1 hour, 40 minutes, you can make One Hour Chili. Reader Adam Kramer of Santa Rosa, California, suggests pairing the chili with wine that is "mysterious, unpredictable and perhaps ultimately unknowable." And here I thought only God and women were unknowable!
Hyper-Specificity On Fast Forward: During last spring's NBA playoffs, Indiana had possession out-of-bounds under the Miami basket with 0.1 showing before halftime and scored on an alley-oop tip into the basket. That is, the scorekeeper thought the entire play took less than a tenth of a second.
In the run up to the first college football national championship, the Washington Post reported Ohio State snaps the ball in "25.72 seconds" and averages "7.03 yards" per play. The difference between "7.03" yards and 7 yards is one inch. The difference between "25.72 seconds" and 26 seconds, multiplied by the Buckeyes' typical snaps per game, works out to 20 seconds over the course of the game.
During the World Cup, the Wall Street Journal reported "14.06 percent" of managers wore polo shirts and track pants while "7.81 percent" favored ties. In December the Journal reported the average tenure of an NFL coach is "2.93 years." The difference between that and 2.9 years is 11 days. That same month the Journal reported Stephen Curry "takes about 0.3 seconds to release the ball, which is at least 0.1 seconds faster" than other long-range shooters, while his 3-pointer attempts "average a maximum height of 16.23 feet" versus a league wide trey average of "15.77 feet." The difference is a little more than half the radius of the basketball.
Reader Matt Barnes of Appleton, Wisconsin, reports, "Recently The Weather Channel application on my phone started giving the hourly precipitation chance down to a specific percentage, instead of an estimate. Now instead of a 60 percent chance of rain at 3 p.m., I am told it's a 63 percent chance followed by a 59 percent chance at 4 p.m." Reader Richard Bourne of Baltimore notes that in China, quality of rural life scores 59.2526 on a scale of 100.
In 2012, I refinanced to take advantage of low mortgage rates. My lender's monthly statements says I am paying "3.00000 percent" interest. The same year I purchased an LG flatscreen TV that boasted a typical lifespan of 60,000 hours. That's 55 years at three hours per day. The TV went brick after two years of such use. Recently I bought some chicken marsala at Giant Food, my local supermarket. The instructions said to microwave for "approximately 2 minutes and 22 seconds." Approximately!
Pick Center, a feature of ESPN Insider, predicts games down to the tenth of a point -- that is, claims greater accuracy than is possible. In Week 1 of the NFL season, Pick Center forecast Jets 21.9, Raiders 16.5. Last week, it forecast an NBA final score of Cleveland 104.8, Portland 99.3.
Reader Christian Swindells of Warsaw, Poland, wrote, "When I measured the distance between the hotel a friend is staying at and the bar where I was meeting him, Google Maps confidently told me it was '158.396 meters.' How can an aerial image be accurate to 1 millimeter? That's not even 0.04 inches (0.0393700787 inches to be exact). So I thought I'd measure something I can be sure of, the length of my car. Google Maps told me my car is 3.48097 meters long: apparently Google reckons its imaging is accurate to 0.01 millimeters. A human hair is 0.05 millimeters thick, so Google Maps claims to be accurate to a fifth of the thickness of a human hair! A tape measure told me my 2004 Mini Cooper is 3.57 meters long, meaning that while Google claim to be accurate to a fifth of one of my few remaining hairs, they're off by the width of my hand."
Last summer, ESPN combined two TMQ bêtes noires by offering improbable predictions with incredible specificity. The Florida State football team was projected through the year 2016 to rank 90.35, ahead of Ohio State at 89.95. That makes Florida State less than half of 1 percent better.
Baseball is the most numbers-driven sport, but should moneyball be carried to the value of pi? Reader Mark Jalkanen of Dodgeville, Michigan, notes that in June, the Sports Illustrated website was listing such stats as the Marlins averaging 4.265625 runs allowed. The Brewers were listed as scoring "4.41538461538461538461538461538461538462" runs per game.
What Rich Person Will Buy Perry's Mechanical Tiger And Put It On The Front Lawn? Last summer, your columnist pitched for Katy Perry as the Super Bowl halftime act. The humor value of her show was well worth it -- though, what's left in terms of staging for whomever performs next year? The acoustics at University of Phoenix Stadium were awful, however. From the stands the sound was so bad it was difficult to determine what number Perry was performing. If Super Bowl halftime acts become better experienced on a flatscreen HD TV than at the game, there's another reason for millennials to lose interest in buying NFL tickets.
Supposedly the Thunderbirds did a flyover -- pilots were introduced in the second half. The aircraft were impossible to see from inside the stadium, however.
Football And Laws Of Nature: A theme of recent seasons of Tuesday Morning Quarterback is that there is no law of nature that says the NFL must remain so popular. Neurological harm, public subsidies to super-rich owners, liability at the high school level and a rising sense that the NFL is arrogant seem the primary threats to the sport's status.
But suppose, for the sake of argument, that these issues can be addressed in ways that most Americans find satisfactory. What else may be down the road for professional football? Here's what: that millennials don't go to games. They find the digitized fantasy version of football more interesting than what happens on the field.
While TV ratings for the NFL and for NCAA football remain robust, NFL attendance is soft, while big-deal NCAA football attendance has been declining. For those of all age groups, one reason is that HD TVs show football so well, why brave the hassle and endure the expense to attend? But there's an added factor for millennials. Many don't associate attending a football game with dad as a rite of passage of youth. Dad may not be in the picture to begin with. Sure, at Thanksgiving they heard their uncles expounding on devotion to the Giants or Bears or Raiders as family traditions. But the sense of these and other teams as emblematic of the communities they represent is fading, replaced with a sense that the NFL is something the super-rich use to sustain their privileges.
The rising cost of NFL games is a major consideration. When Baby Boomers were young, their dads (and occasionally moms) could take them to NFL games at ticket prices that, stated in today's dollars, were $10 for bleacher seats, $50 for the best seats in the house. I write this item starting at midfield but high Super Bowl tickets with a face value of $1,200 and a Stub Hub asking price of $9,500. Good-not-great seats for a Cleveland Browns game sell for $75 each, and that's among the lowest prices in the NFL. When seats, parking and $8 sodas are considered, a parent must assume at least $150 per person to attend an NFL game. So the family-outing nature of NFL games has faded. At college stadiums, students are conspicuously absent, replaced with expense-account types. Football remains as fantastic sport, but its nostalgic associations are fading.
And then there's the movement of millennials from television to broadband. Cord-cutting as a fad is giving way to the no-cord generation that has never signed up for television service. They may watch fantasy football stats and highlights on the web. They're a lot less likely to watch the games. Football can't stop the advance of technology. But football is assiduously pricing itself out of family-based nostalgia.
Today's Boomers follow sports avidly in part out of their desire for a endless of endless youth -- beer and pizza while watching a football game is like still being 23 years old. Marketers play along. They want buyers to feel young for as long as possible -- "late youth" is a marketing concept -- then jump to early retirement, skipping middle age altogether. But how much longer will football be associated with late youth? A generation down the road, the notion of being crazy about the Giants or Packers may seem so dated.
The Super Bowls Of The Who-Dats: Undrafted Malcolm Butler, with one career NFL start, made the play of the Super Bowl, taking the ball away from undrafted Ricardo Lockette. Champion New England started two undrafted offensive linemen, an undrafted wide receiver and an undrafted tight end; its leading rusher was a twice-waived undrafted tailback. Three other players unwanted by other teams started for the Super Bowl champions.
The runner-up fielded four undrafted wide receivers; their leading receiver in the game had never made an NFL catch, and was once waived by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Seattle's leading rusher was let go by Buffalo for a fourth-round draft selection -- no other team bid anything more.
Either Throw A Virgin Into The Volcano Or Fire An Assistant Coach: The latest example is the Packers' scapegoating last week of special teams coach Shawn Slocum, fired because his charges allowed a special teams touchdown then failed to recover an expected onside kick in the NFC championship game. Green Bay special teams indeed performed poorly. It was head coach Mike McCarthy who sent the special teams out four times on four fourth-and-1 situations when Green Bay should have gone for it. The head coach isn't going to fire himself, though.
Bookshelf: At the end of each season, TMQ recommends meritorious recent books that may not have received sufficient attention. Among them this year:
"We Are Better Than This" by Edward Kleinbard. First he argues that the United States needs a strong central government to transfer income and restrain the market. So he's a left-winger? Then he argues that the middle class is crying wolf, should stop complaining and demanding more benefits funded by borrowing, while government must be held accountable for squandering much of its revenue.
"Sex Itself" by Sarah S. Richardson. Harvard historian takes off from the finding that men and women differ more in DNA terms than humans differ from chimps. Richardson delves into whether X and Y really determine sex drive and sexual identification. She concludes that cultural influences are as important; Richardson thinks the XX or XY distinction is not a straightforward explanation of gender feelings, especially given most of what makes a man into a man is found on the X chromosome possessed by both genders. (Some researchers think the Y chromosome, which is tiny compared to the X, has no role other than to code for male genitalia and sperm production.) She further supposes the speculation that there is DNA for dominant and submissive sexual impulses -- genetics straight out of Pauline Réage! -- is not holding up in research. Her big point is that because the X chromosome is so much larger than the Y, the story of human sexuality will be found in its entirely there.
"Christ Actually" by James Carroll. Argues that Jesus was not divine, just a sage, and that denominations -- Jesus never mentioned them -- are a huge historical mistake. Though anti-Christian, the book is strongly pro-Jesus. Carroll believes all of society should follow Christ's teachings regarding ethics.
"Cosby" by Mark Whitaker. This authorized biography glosses over rape allegations against the comedian, and it's a significant fault. Still, page after fascinating page.
"Corruption in America" by Zephyr Teachout. Argues that the framers would be aghast that corporations and labor unions buy off politicians as the Supreme Court looks on with nodding approval. Shows from many historical examples that what's legal in political money today would have been a crime in Thomas Jefferson's time. A law professor at Fordham University, Teachout last year ran a boutique candidacy for New York governor: Her platform was that Albany was corrupt. She lost, then a few months later the speaker of the New York Assembly was dragged away in handcuffs, charged with accepting bribes. Teachout says the contemporary campaign finance system "means politicians come pre-corrupted." She also has the world's coolest name.
"Dark Mirror" by Sara Lipton. Haunting, meticulously researched book about the prevalence of anti-Jewish iconography in Christianity during the middle ages, from public displays to stained glass in churches.
"Blue Mind" by Wallace J. Nichols. Speculation about why people find it soothing to live near water.
"Trillion Dollar Economists" by Robert Litan. Economists are both revered and reviled. In this important book, a Brookings Institution scholar shows that economists' pronouncements actually matter to how people live their lives.
"The Bill of the Century" by Clay Risen. Magnificent, groundbreaking work on the sociological background of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you saw the movie "Selma," you must read this book.
"Please Stop Helping Us" by Jason Riley. Deals with uncomfortable truths, such as young African-American males are 10 times more likely to be murdered than white males of same age -- and 93 percent of the time, the killer is another black male. Declares establishment liberalism "bent on pretending that police shootings are responsible for America's high black body count." Wrestles with how to change this without slipping into blame-the-victim.
"The Tyranny of Experts" by William Easterly. Maintains the developing world doesn't need our advice, or even our money. What it needs is the concept of rights -- rights to liberty and to property. This is what worked to create decent lives in the United States and European Union.
"Bring Back the Bureaucrats" by John J. DiIulio Jr. If you like counterintuitive, this is the book for you. Dilulio, a George W. Bush White House official, argues the federal government needs more staff -- that career bureaucrats do a better job than contract employees and consultants.
"Is Water H2O?" by Hasok Chang. A philosophy professor at University of Cambridge, Chang challenges many standard assumptions of science. Part of a counter-wave of serious books questioning the prevailing academic P.C. view that there is nothing to existence beyond what meets the eye. The 2012 volume "Mind and Cosmos," by Thomas Nagel, is essential on this topic.
"Pain" by Keith Wailoo. Assesses use of pain by governments to torture political opponents; the attempts of medical science to understand invisible-but-so-real pain; wonders what sorts of pain relief (narcotics? marijuana?) should be sanctioned by society.
"A Natural History of Human Thinking" by Michael Tomasello. Argues that about 400,000 years ago, our forebears learned to read each other's emotions from facial expressions, and this led to social cooperation. A psychologist, Tomasello is among the bright lights of current science.
"Freedom From Speech" by Greg Lukianoff. Scathing indictment of college administrators and professors who try to ban conservative ideas in the name of protecting students from "unwelcome" thoughts. A generation ago, colleges wanted to forbid left-wing thinking. Now they want to mandate it.
"The Homing Instinct" by Bernd Heinrich. How animals navigate, and why long-distance migration evolved -- though, a bit too much about the author's childhood.
"Japan 1941" by Eri Hotta. How Europe blundered into the pointless Great War is a much-mined topic. Hotta was born in Tokyo. She shows how Japan blundered into a pointless war with the United States even though its leaders knew they could not win.
"The Reckoning" by Michael Moran. Argues that all previous great nations foundered not because of overstretch, enervation or hordes invading from the steppes but because of debt. Leaders borrowed without restraint to make themselves feel important, having no plan to repay; their empires essentially were repossessed. Sound like any country you know?
And a few novels: "The City of Palaces" by Michael Nava. Highly textured, engaging historical fiction about the Mexican Revolution.
"#Lovingthealien" by Peter Hazen. Quirky fiction by a young author of great promise, who has a lot to learn about the craft.
"Auraria" by Tim Westover. Imagines what would happen if backwoods Georgia legends turned out to be true. Also invokes a fine word -- Auraria Higher Education Center is an innovative Denver facility that offers college-quality instruction to those who didn't start to focus on learning until after high school.
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" by Maria Semple. Humor novels tend to be overdone: this one will make you smile.
Was Seattle's Head In The Game? Doug Baldwin, a Stanford graduate, drew a ridiculous, highly unprofessional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after his touchdown. It's the Super Bowl -- giving away yardage is a knuckleheaded blunder. Seattle leading 24-14, Richard Sherman, a Stanford graduate, began dancing along the sidelines and mugging for the cameras. Both these players all but begged the football gods to punish them.
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn spent parts of the postseason negotiating for the Falcons head coaching job. His defense looked unfocused till the very end versus Green Bay, then looked unfocused for the entire Super Bowl. Was his head in the game or in his next contract?
Would Belichick Have Given Up A Safety: After the interception, New England had the ball on its 1-yard line with 20 seconds remaining. You can't kneel from the 1, so the Patriots would have had to run a play. Tom Brady drew Seattle offside with a hard count and celebrated wildly on the field, knowing Seattle's mighty defense had, on its final snap of 2014, fallen for the oldest trick in the books.
Suppose Seattle hadn't jumped? My bet is Belichick would have let the play clock expire, taken a few inches of penalty and then taken a deliberate safety in order to free-kick from the 20 with a two-point lead and about 15 seconds remaining.
Single Worst Play Of The 2014 Season: Darrell Bevell, Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson all took blame for the borderline-insane second-and-goal call with 26 seconds remaining in the Super Bowl. So at least they were honest -- there's that. But the Single Worst Play of the 2014 Season was, except for a kneel-down, the play that concluded the 2014 season. There may never again be such a combination of terrible decision and important moment.
Exit Stage Left: Tuesday Morning Quarterback folds its tent and steals off into the desert. As usual, I recommend you employ the offseason to engage in spiritual growth. Take long walks. Attend worship services of any faith, even if solely to sharpen your doubt. Appreciate the beauty of nature. Exercise more, eat less. Perform volunteer work. Read, meditate, serve others: Do these things and you will feel justified in racing back to the remote, the swimsuit calendars and the microbrews when the football artificial universe resumes anew in the autumn.