Dr Z
Friday October 10th, 2008

A concerned e-mailer named Thomas W. has noted a lack of joy and a decidedly sour tone in my recent efforts. I did not disagree. These are hard times. Time to button up, draw the laces tighter, spend more time staring straight ahead. But, as the Redhead gamely points out, there's a lot of depression out there, so please be so kind as not to add to it. She's right. You're right, TW. Everybody's right. I'm left. And away we go into the very extremes of correspondence.

Libby from Phoenix, noting that my 32nd-ranked Rams could be handled only in the sparest example of doggerel, wants -- to quote the lady named Ransome in the limerick -- "more."

"I challenge you to come up with a poem each week," she writes, "or better yet, an entire week of poems, one for each team."

My dear madam:

My verse you've praised, Please hear my thanks; I'm not that crazed, One of those cranks.

To do your wish Would take more time, Than seas have fish Or Z has rhyme.

• Here comes a chap after my own heart (you can't have it). Joe B. from Medford, Mass., and his suggestion has so much merit that it merits the coveted E-mailer of the Week award. What he wants me to do is, one week, "throw a total curveball into the rankings, to draw the ire of the entire Z nation." Move an unworthy team up. Justify it in some cockamamie way..."then you could post the furious e-mails that stream in."

Joe, you're preaching to the choir. In my house, when my children were growing up, and even afterward, we called these "Bugs." As in, "Maaa, he's bugging us again!" Bugging has been a sacred calling during every stage of my life. When I was a beat man on the Jets, we'd bug coach Weeb Ewbank by substituting our own injury report for the one he'd routinely announce.

"John Dockery -- pulled eye. John Ebersole -- worms. WHAT THE HELL!"

When I was in the army, the target was a poor old master sergeant who'd usually come in hung over. I'd go next door and call our office.

"S-3 office, 1264th, Sgt. Fabian speaking, sir." "Who?" "Sergeant Fabian." "He's not here now." "No, this is Sgt. Fabian." "Who?" "Fabian. Fabian. Sgt. Fabian." "Just told you, he's not here." And on and on, up into the very mountains of madness.

But what you suggest would be shortstopped by an editor, and next thing I know, my phone would be ringing angrily. It wouldn't work. But hey, I like your ideas. Keep trying.

Tony from San Antony...uh, San Antonio...draws attention to a piece we ran on the Cowboys' Felix Jones possibly assaulting one of the oldest records on the books, Beattie Feathers' yards per carry average of 8.4, set in 1934. Except that for many years that mark of 8.4 actually was 9.94.

Some background -- 1934 was only the third year in which individual stats were kept in the NFL. The papers never ran them. They were left for concerned members of the club to piece together, somehow. Feathers, a Chicago rookie in '34, actually missed two games with a bad shoulder, which makes his astounding total of 1,004 yards rushing, which, divided by his 101 attempts, came out to 9.94, even more surprising.

It put the yards per carry mark out of reach, probably for all time. It was so amazing that it was suspect. When I wrote my Thinking Man's Guide back in 1969, I did a serious research project on this record, to go into my chapter on statistics. Feathers lasted six more years in the NFL. His average per carry during that period was a modest 3.8. What was the ungodly fire that had gotten into him in that rookie season? The answer was punt and kick returns.

They were not kept back then. I strongly suspected that a few of them had been added to his rushing totals, thereby jerking up the average. I had no proof, just a very strong suspicion. I looked through old newspaper reports from 1934. I could find no mention of Feathers even putting together a 100-yard game. As I said, individual stats were not mentioned in the press.

I called Seymour Siwoff, president of the Elias Bureau, then, and now, the NFL's statistical arm. "I can look through the books and smell a phony statistic," he said. "You see a statistic like the Feathers statistic and it shakes you. It's like a bolt of lightning. I'm not saying anything, but I have a feeling some punt and kick returns were added to his rushing total."

Beattie's 9.94 yards per carry mark stood on the books for 57 years -- 101 carries, 1,004 yards. Then in 1992, hello there, it got a facelift. The 101 carries became 119 in the official NFL record book. Like thieves in the night, masked statisticians somewhere found 18 more carries for Beattie. The new record became 8.44, based on 1,004 yards divided by 119. Fourteen years later Michael Vick came along and ran for 1,039 yards on 123 carries, an average of 8.45. Beattie had been beaten by .01 of a yard -- plus a statistical overhaul.

So if you ask me about Felix Jones, I smile and say, "who, where, what record, whose?"

• Let's turn the long range siege guns on TV. "I thought you were going to behave this week," says Redheaded Wife. Yeah, OK, next week, I promise. Eddie of Atlanta can't stand retired ballplayers with mangled language and thought waves. Scott of Fort Lauderdale wants to know if I have any favorites among collegiate announcers.

I answer both at once. Irv Brown, a third string ESPN announcer, was the best I've ever heard. Simply terrific. I liked Dan Fouts when he was doing college stuff, also Chris Spielman. Brent Musberger is an old friend, going back to his days as a Chicago newspaperman. We've been through some stuff together. He doesn't bother me.

• "What do you think about Donald Trump promoting the Jets' Coaches Club, $25,000 personal seat licenses, which will go on auction Oct. 19?" asks Artie of Forest Hills. I think they deserve each other. If ever I had any doubts about this ripoff, they're answered now.

• "Peyton Manning's on the decline, Eli's on the rise, which one is better?" asks Barbara of White Meadow Lake, N.J.

Peyton.

Damien of Brooklyn challenges my manhood, or at least my reputation as a trouble maker. The NFL has openly legalized holding, he says, or at least that's what the Indianapolis Star says. Holding calls only will be reserved for players in position to make a play, he says. The Colts' Bill Polian, ever ready to give his offense any edge he can, wins again.

"The NFL is doing despicable things to its once glorious game," Damien writes. "Are you going to take action?"

You bet I am. The very nerve. Which way'd they go? A quick call to Greg Aiello, the NFL's publicist.

"Stay calm," he says. "Nobody's allowing anything. Polian was just speculating about what they should do."

You hear that, Damien? The panic is over. Keep me informed on further developments. Eternal vigilance, that's our cry.

Jonathan of White Plains, N.Y., and I thank you for the nice things you said, has two questions:

Q: How is the Dolphins Wildcat different from the single wing? A: The single wing had a tailback, a fullback a blocking back and a wingback. The wildcat looks more like a shotgun.

Q: What exactly is a nickel defense? A: A linebacker leaves, a DB, designated the nickel back, replaces him, in passing downs.

Cavon of Philly, noting the proliferation of "diva" wideouts, in other words, me me me guys in the Terrell Owens mold, wants to know who were the divas in the old days.

Honestly, I can't find T.O. types in the history books. Oh, I guess the Packers' Sterling Sharpe wanted the ball as much as anyone, but my gosh, the great catches this guy made. Irvin and Keyshawn whom you name, wanted the ball, sure, but they were great competitors and blockers, who earned everything they got.

• What common denominators do you see in the bad teams, asks Keith of Winnipeg. A reluctance to work hard. A desire to get away with everything they can. Inferior talent, naturally, but I don't think you're after that. In the really bad teams I've covered, a feeling that it's time to pack it in when they get 10 points or so behind. The cure? Probably an overhaul at the managerial level. They're the ones who let it reach that point.

Mike G. of St. Louis asks the following: "How is it possible that there are more winless teams than undefeated teams? I thought we were in the 'Age of Parity.'" There's no such thing. In some years teams are closer, in other they're farther apart. To get perfect mathematical parity after five games, you would have to have two clubs showing a zero in either wins or losses, 10 showing one victory or loss, and 20 either 3-2 or 2-3. What we have now are six teams showing a zero in either W's or L's, 11 in the one win or loss category and 15 at 2-3 or 3-2. So this season, so far, is more tilted toward the extreme, less toward the ordinary.

I hope this answers your question, although to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I understand it.

• My little "cold, colder, coldest" throwaway line about Buffalo drew a stormy response from Kevin O'Neill, Buffalo TV reporter. First of all, Kevin, I want to commend you for your loyalty to a meaningful, no-nonsense city. Secondly, what are you, nuts or something? I was just playing around, grasping for a closing line. I must admit, though, that when we were up there in February, and Linda got stuck to the car and the Fire Department had to hack her loose, thoughts of the severe cold crossed my mind.

Will of Bloomington, Ind., wonders why he's noticed so many helmets flying off -- at least in the highlight films. Man, this is a head-scratcher. Off the top of my head, I'm having trouble finding a reason. Maybe they ought to quit while they're ahead. Or head for safer helmets. Before matters really come to a head.

• From Jason of Houston -- "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am a Texans fan; please pray for me."

Our father, who art in Houston...

Don, a Dolphins fan from Ashburn, Va., is annoyed the Dolphins' Wildcat has occupied so much notoriety about his team that people treat other, more significant aspects lightly. Such as the defense. Absolutely. I agree. When I did that little bitty piece on them in the latest magazine, I ended it with, "They can play some defense, too, you know." Given the space constraints, I'm afraid that's the best I can do.

• From Phil of Cincinnati. "I noticed you mentioned Pivo. What is your favorite Czech beer? Have you ever tried Becherovka?"

The Redhead is begging to answer this one. "Have we tried it?" she says. "You betcher Ovka."

• Two-part question from Matthew of Cary, N.C.:

1. Is there really a home field advantage for most football teams? Yes. A long trip will disrupt a team's schedule, and noisy fans will make it harder to run a no-huddle, hurry-up offense.

2. How do you reflect that edge in your picks? I don't have to. The edge already is reflected in the betting line. Sometimes, though, it's helpful to go back through the records and find a place where a team always seems to do well as a visitor, such as Europe for the U.S. in World Wars I and II.

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