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What about the game?

So which network do I go after first, Fox or ESPN? Getting many letters urging me to go forward in my crusade against network idiocy, equally divided between antagonists of both super-powers. Think I'll do the ESPN thing first because the e-mailers in that camp are more passionate; the Foxies seem to be merely annoyed.

First my E-mailer of the Week, who, unfortunately, did not include a last name, but his is one of the few missives I ever got that had me laughing out loud ... the Flaming Redhead, too.

From Steve W. of Brisbane, Australia -- "It was about midday on Tuesday here in Australia and, with the help of a six-pack, the Falcons didn't seem to suck that much in the first half, so I was quite enjoying Monday Night Football. Then some bloke called Kimble or Kummel or something came on and tried unsuccessfully to be funny. I thought you had shamed ESPN into stopping this rubbish."

He goes on a bit longer, but this is the essence of it. The Falcons-Giants game set a record for MNF, and I'm sure no one but me is aware of what it is. Shortest attention span by an announcing crew. In other words, quickest to lose interest in the game and go on to other topics, such as Jimmy Kimmel and his parade of one-liners. The old record was held by the Madden-Michaels team, which usually would go on to the topics of the day when the margin between the teams got to 10 points or so, I'd say around the third quarter. But this bunch severed connections with Giants-Atlanta at halftime and substituted Jimmy for it.

Now I'm not going to knock Jimmy Kimmel. I think he's a pretty funny guy, and I used to love the Dennis Miller imitations he did when he was on Fox's early Sunday show. But holy hell, first ESPN gave us a huge dose of him in their hour and a half pregame show, then they had to bring him back and sit him in the booth, basically reprising much of the same material, while the game was taking place. What was wrong with the postgame, which would have completed the trifecta? The thing is these people just don't care ... about what I write or how much agony the viewers must go through, or anything.

And in answer to your praise of Mike Tirico, EMOTW Steve of Brisbane, I must strongly disagree. He is the quickest of all of them to lose interest. No announcer skips more plays than he does, while he's on some sort of toot or other. And it's sad to see what Ron Jaworski has turned into ... ah hell, I'm shortstopping my own end-of-season announcers column.

Les of Brooklyn is another e-mailer who comes on even stronger. See that, ESPN ... from Brisbane to Brooklyn, thence your faithful narrator in Mountain Lakes, N.J., there is nothing but contempt for the show you put on.

OK, Andrew, unlock the gate and let in all those people with the Down With Fox signs.

Phil of Colorado Springs, Colo. -- "What about the other stupid things Fox does?" He mentions blocking live action with the scoreboard update banner. It's funny. Last weekend the Redhead was watching me watch the game and she started laughing. I asked her why and she did an imitation of me, craning my neck to try to look around that thing to see the game, then trying to sweep it away with the back of my hand. Neither maneuver worked, incidentally.

Frank of Bel Air, Md. -- "I'm not an old fogy and I want those lineups, too. Now, if we could just get you to come around on Art Monk for the Hall of Fame, you'd be 100 percent." Take heart. I'm softening my position on Art.

Paul of Travis Air Force Base, Calif. -- "They do not want to clutter up the game with starting lineup graphics, but they sure as fire will run a ticker across the bottom of the screen with all that fantasy football stats crap." This should be obvious to you. Desire for promotion, a.k.a. profit, trumps desire to provide information every time. And I thank you, Paul, for what you wrote about your memories of DeuceMcAllister's toughness and your impressions of my recent column about the tough runners.

Jim of Indiana -- "The only way I eventually figured out who was injured and not playing was going to the numbers off my laptop two series later." I never thought of that. Problem is that I'm so inept with that thing that it probably would run me through the timeout and cause me to miss plays. Hmmm, then again, I could get the Redhead to do it. You've given me an idea here, Jim.

Clinton of San Jose, Calif. -- "I agree. I sometimes get annoyed when they have the players introduce the lineups because they always seem to take too long to go into the next play, but not telling the viewers who is on the field is crazy." Yeah, it drives me nuts, too ... "And lining up at strongside linebacker is a man who needs no introduction, but years ago in the Orient he learned the hypnotic power to cloud men's minds so that they cannot see him ... " (Anyone remember Lamont Cranston, otherwise known as The Shadow?).

OK, we've had our fun. Now we're going to get serious. The Trap Formula of Handicapping. Here's a sociological observation. The good, honest e-mailers who obeyed the rules and punched in the little thing the Web site recommended didn't have much to say about this system of mine that took up so much space in my Rankings column. But the sneaks, the closet bettors and gambling degennies, figured out a way to penetrate the in-house Sports Illustrated e-mail, and that's where the bulk of the queries about The System came from.

Being a liberal democrat, I will answer all questions from healthy and unhealthy alike. So my rather lengthy explanation of The Formula, which I have done, oh maybe a dozen times in the last decade, will be dedicated to the following: Aaron Sokolow (last name given because no location listed ), Matt Ventresca (ditto), Stefan van der Abeelen of San Luis Obispo, Calif. (used the last name because I like the ring of it so much), Anthony of San Antonio, or maybe it's Antonio of Saint Anthony's, and finally little Mary Sue of Parsippany, N.J., who has eight cents she took from her mother's coat pocket and is undecided about laying it on the Jags plus-three.

The basis of my theory is that the oddsmakers in Vegas, who know more than all of us, set traps each week -- games that look so enticing, regarding the line, that the bulk of the gambling public is suckered into betting a certain way. I call those games Trap Games, and when I spot one that looks like one of them, I go against every yutz in the barbershop that's rushing to bet on what they feel is an easy choice, and pick against them, or with the smart guys, figuring that the mass of the public usually is wrong. My theory could also be called the Ugly Team theory. I love unpopular teams, ugly ducklings.

My reasoning is as follows: When you look at those handicapping boxes in the papers, why is the consensus so often below .500 for the season? I mean half a dozen old ladies with hatpins are going to hit the guessing average of .500. Why can't the so-called experts? Because I believe that they have the same mentality as the suckers in the barbershop, raised a few degrees. None of them, or myself, are/is as smart as the guys who set the price. Everyone out there will tell you that bookies make their money off the vig, the vigorish, the juice ... the 10 percent that gamblers have to pay on losing bets, but I feel that the real money is made on traps.

Once I bounced this theory off Sonny Reisner of the Castaways in Vegas when he was the leading oddsmaker. He laughed at me. "Wiseguy theory," he said. "You think we don't have wiseguys out here? Come on out and play your formula. I'll send a limo to meet you at the airport." Yeah, OK, right. I still have faith in it. And here is the practical application.

You set your own line before the official one comes out. I do it on Sunday night of the previous week. Then you check it against the official line. Usually I'm pretty close, but if something varies from mine by three or more points, I turn around and pick their way, against my own number, in other words. I figure I've fallen into the trap.

Case in point -- I set my line for Tampa Bay at Detroit as Bucs, coming off that victory over Tennessee, favored by a point. The game opened at Lions favored by one. OK, I'm still two points away, so it's not yet a trap game. But shortly thereafter it went to two, then 2 ½, in other words 3 ½ points away from my line. Then it became a trap and a formula pick for me. So I turned around and went against my own opinion and selected Detroit in the magazine when I wrote my little story late Sunday night. In other words, if I had reasoned ... well, I like Tampa Bay a lot better than they do, so that's who I'll pick, I'd have fallen into the trap. But instead I went with the "they," the trapmakers, the ones who had made the Lions a favorite.

When I mentioned that the Trap Formula is 13-7 this season, I meant against the spread, not the straight up picking I do for the magazine. It's been pretty good so far. Sometimes it's not so good, but over the last 10 years it's around 58 percent. The weakness of it is that subjective judgment is involved, and no system is any good, really, if anything subjective is counted in. Sometimes I'm afraid I set my own price by trying to think of what Vegas will come out with, rather than what I think it really ought to be. I have to guard against that.

Personally, I don't bet. The downside potential is too great. It probably would cost me my job, and I like what I do. Conflict of interest could be cited ... how can you write impartially about a team when you've got money riding on it? How indeed?

Craig of Cincinnati rips my analysis in the Rankings column that the Bengals don't do well against physical teams. His reasoning -- they beat the Ravens, didn't they? Read the thing again. It wasn't my thought. I quoted Jimmy, who takes a strong personal interest in these matters. And I see you over there, JT ... trying to hide in the freakin' closet. Come on out and face this guy, OK?

From Jamie of Baltimore -- "The Cowboys' Roy Williams did it again, rolling up on the back of BenWatson's legs while making a tackle and knocking him out of the game. I was there the day he shattered MusaSmith's legs and have become convinced that even worse than grabbing a player's jersey from behind is the way he dives on the back of their legs and then pulls them backward."

He mentions that no foul was called, and asks if the players themselves will put out a contract on Williams to stop him from doing what the league obviously can't.

The play he mentions is a 28-yard post that Watson caught on Williams in the second quarter. I didn't notice anything particularly outrageous at the time, and my tape didn't show it, either, which doesn't mean it didn't happen. I will watch Roy Williams more carefully in the future. What bothers me is that the league keeps handing out fines that drew no flag at the time. I really don't think the game officials do a good job of watching for the crippling hits. The league has taken upon itself to try to protect guys who aren't protected at the time.

As far as vigilante justice? It existed once upon a time, but no longer. They're all making too much money for that.

Brad of Olympia, Wash., notes that I might have noticed TomBrady's passes taking a dive early in the Dallas game because Texas Stadium has a heavy slant to it. If so, then every visiting QBs' passes would seem that way and they don't.

Andy of Denver, and I thank you, asks for my choice of "best coach out of the rookie head coaches last year." I'm not sure what you mean. You're not including this season's crop, right? Well, if you'd have asked me that in the off-season I'd have said tie between Eric Mangini of the Jets and Sean Payton of the Saints. Now both their teams are in the dumper. I'm not going to say BradChildress or Rod Marinelli because their teams have a better record right now. I think I'll stick with the same two, although I give the Saints more hope this season than I do the Jets.

Jimmy of Manayunk,Pa., wants to know why Eli Manning has been sacked so few times in the last two games. Because the two teams he faced, Jets and Falcons, were weaker, defensively, than anyone else the Giants played.

Izzy of Miami would like to include the Dolphins' Ronnie Brown in my roster of tough running backs. "He's running with a mean streak this season," he writes. I've got a Dolphin game on tape and you've now given me the only thing I can look forward to when I put it on. And thanks for what you wrote.

Wesley of Framingham, Mass., also has a thing for guys who run with passion and would like my roster of "classic maulers" of the past. Would take too long to list them all, but I'll give you the Redskins' Larry Brown, the classic "plays too tough for his body" guy, and a pair you probably never heard of, PaulHofer of the 49ers and Bill Butler of the Saints. Never took a play off. Killed themselves playing for bad teams. Retired at 29 and 24, respectively ... make that respectfully.

Marty of Glen Rock, N.J., likens Wes Welker to Hall of Famer TommyMcDonald, as a great possession receiver. Yeah, both have ... had ... good hands, but there's one big difference. Welker's career average per catch is 11.2 yards. McDonald's was 17.0. One of the greatest downfield threats in history. And I appreciate your comments about my work.

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