Forgive me if this is a mumbling, disjointed mess. Check that... if this is a column not quite up to its piercing penetration, and uh... folks, it is late at night and I just did the 30-mile number from Giants Stadium west on Route 3, thence US 80, Cherry Hill Road, Rte. 46 and Lakewood Drive, where a candle and holly wreath were waiting in the window. Oh yes, got stopped on good old Rte. 46 in Wayne.
"Do you know why I stopped you?"
"No, sir." (I bestowed knighthood immediately.)
"Failure to maintain proper lane control." In other words, weaving a bit.
I had shown my license at this point and was searching for the other documents, which Linda had hidden somewhere in the forests of the glove compartment. Finally I stopped scratching about, faced up to the young Jersey state trooper and decided to throw myself on the mercy of the court.
"Look, I'm a writer," I said, "and I just covered the Giants-Redskins, and they've got construction going on there and I had to walk about half a mile under the stadium to get to the lot where I'd parked. I'm awfully tired." All of this was absolutely true.
"How was the game?"
"Not good. One team played hard, the other was just going through the motions."
"I guess you're not a Giants fan."
"No, sir, I'm not."
"You don't have to show any more documents. Just drive home safely."
And that's why you won't hear me ever saying any bad things about Jersey state cops. They listen to reason, once they've established that you're not reeking of alcohol and representing an accident just waiting to happen.
• Which leads me to question numero uno, which is, well, what was my take on the game, and the questioner is Sandy of Bethesda, Md. Well, little Missy, I'm afraid you're not going to like this if you're a 'Skins fan. I didn't visit the Giants locker room after their rather workmanlike 16-7 victory. I knew it would be packed, with everyone sqwunched together, asking the same questions about how great they are in this post-Super Bowl year and so forth. No, I was interested in the 'Skins and their coach Jim Zorn, for whom I rooted very hard when he was an exciting, freelancing QB for the Seahawks.
I wanted to know about the last 6:12 of the game, a moment of truth of sorts. The score was 16-7. Washington got the ball on its own 10. It had run only 34 plays for the entire night up to this point. The Giant defense was as fresh as anyone could have been in that muggy, humid night. There was no sense of urgency in the Redskins' operation, no feeling the offense had to score twice within six minutes. They ran Clinton Portis four times on the drive, if you could call it that -- for minus-three, minus-four, eight and three yards. Four carries, four yards, with the clock moving, moving and no timeouts called.
OK, run the ball once, as a change of pace, but this fooled nobody. The passing was of the take-what-they-give-us, under the zone variety. There was no hustling in and out of the huddle, no spikes to stop the clock, nothing really deep downfield. A dull blah of an offense, in crunch time, and this was not the Zorn I remembered.
They ran 10 plays, gained 58 yards, took 4:10 off the clock and gave the ball back to the Giants with 2:02 left, having used only one of their three timeouts. People were heading for the exits. The 'Skins had done the Giants clock-killing job for them.
"Honestly, I don't know what they were doing," said Hall of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen, who does the 'Skins game on the radio. I talked to guys I knew in that locker room: guard Pete Kendall andex-Ram and Bill London Fletcher, the terrific MLB, who played himself into exhaustion. Shrugs. Of course we know, but what do you expect us to say?
"First game as head coach," Kendall said. "Give him a break."
"We were starting to move the ball," Zorn said when I caught up to him. "We picked up some yards on the ground. I thought if we could have scored, and then gotten the ball back with more than two minutes left, and held them, and..."
I told him that the old Jim Zorn would have gotten them in and out of the huddle in a hurry, would have called two plays at the line, killed the clock, whatever it took.
"Jim Zorn called his own plays," he said. "Jason Campbell doesn't." Then he paused for a minute and seemed to deflate.
"OK, we could have gotten in and out of the huddle faster, I'll give you that. Sense of urgency? Yeah, I guess that was lacking. The truth is that I'll have to sit down and go over this game pretty carefully."
I guarantee the films will be painful for him. He's in a tough spot. Sure, I still root for him. And on to the rest of the mailbag we go...
• My rankings, with nothing to base them on except wisps of smoke, drew some pretty pointed rebuttals.
--Mario of Panama says my 17th-ranked Saints will still be playing in February, and added an obscene rejoinder that the Redhead got a kick out of but drove me to the smelling salts.
--Pat of "no city given" (I used to live there myself) wants to know "what Genius Z has against the Bears' D-Line" (pass rushers, no run stoppers).
--Conrad of Detroit "must take exception" to my ranking of the Lions 22nd. "Have you seen any of their exhibition games?" Yes, their 13-10 victory over the Giants. Exhibition records are meaningless.
--Mike of Eau Claire, Wisc., doesn't understand how I can crunch the numbers hard enough to crunch in two wild card teams in the same division. It happens, it happens, and I'm getting tired.
--Mark of Houston says my picks are "a sign of age or prescience," prescience being a word meaning exactly that, pre-science, in other words, when I picked the Saints to go to the Super Bowl a year ago, I was a year ahead of myself.
Which reminds me of a story. Groucho Marx once said he had a scheme for predicting the future. Every autumn, when Daylight Saving time gives way to Standard time and we move the clock back an hour, he won't do it. Thus he'll pick up an hour a day. At the end of 24 years, he'll have picked up 24 hours, a full day, and he'll be able to predict tomorrow's events.
• William of Port Jefferson, N.Y., wants to know the scheduling process that gave the unbeaten Patriots a soft schedule. The softness comes from playing six divisional games against three teams that had losing records last year. Elsewhere, if you compare their schedule to those of other AFC East teams, you'll find that all of them face the NFC West and AFC West, The difference comes in two games against a team in the AFC North and AFC South. Those are graded.
The Patriots, the No. 1 team in its division, faces the No. 1 North team (Pittsburgh) and the top club in the South (Indy). That's 23 combined wins last year. Buffalo, the No. 2 team, picked up a pair of deuces, Jax and Cleveland (21 wins). The Jets got the threes, Cincy and Tennessee (20) and Miami got the bottom clubs, Houston and Baltimore (13). (Dominic, this is a long boring interlude in the midst of a column that should be bubbling with effervescence, and as long as you keep selecting for me this tiresome schedule complaint, things won't get better. In fact, you might have to deal with a blown mind.)
(Editor's Note: What were you saying, Z? I fell asleep...)
• Richard of Fond du Lac, Wisc., where people shock easily, is shocked the Pack is starting the season with a QB who has never started and has "about 30 snaps." (Actually 59 passes thrown, lifetime, plus other snaps in which he handed the ball off, knelt, fumbled or other stuff). Has this ever happened before on opening day, and when and where and to what teams? Well, Richard -- I may call you Richard, may I not? -- this has happened every time a team has had a rookie starter on opening day. My secretary, Screwy Lewie, is compiling the list for you. He is up to 45,000, going back to the Oorang Indians of 1922, and says it should be ready by Arbor Day.
• Matt of Madison, Wisc., wants to know where the term, The Turk, comes from. I first heard it in the 1950s. Some say it goes back to the '40s, with no significant proof. Contrary to accepted belief, The Turk, is not the coach who does the actual cutting of a player (Turk with the long scimitar, inflicting cuts, etc.); rather, he's the person who first tells the player about to be cut, "Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook." It's an onerous task, generally handed to low ranking personnel, such as ball boys or assistant trainers. It is also used as a verb. I once heard two ballboys talking in the Jets' camp. "They got you Turking tonight?" one said. "Yeah, I'm the Turk," said the other.
• Don of Lansing, Kansas, is mystified why a veteran such as Fred Taylor was run in for giving police a hard time outside a bar, or was it a "club?" Don says he will take on the job of baby-sitting these guys for a salary commensurate with the risk involved. Don't laugh. Some clubs have hired people to handle things such as this. The Dolphins have an old time federal agent named Stu Weinstein who troubleshoots players who get busted...check that...doesn't sound right...who does troubleshooting work for players who hit the night spots too hard. I agree with you. It's weird, isn't it....the lure of the club, the willingness to sacrifice everything for...for what? Showing off? Letting the temper run wild? Battling for a lady's honor...actually dishonor in more cases.
• Nice compliment from Kevin from Madison, and thank you, but hey, what's the deal with this influx of Wisconsin letters? Oh, comma, I see. This is Madison, Miss. Sorry, Kevin. Now what's on your mind. Doesn't like Jerry Jones. Sees him as another Dan Snyder. My thoughts? There might be stuff not to like, for sure. But at least he was a football player and knows the game, a contrast with you know who. Personally I like him. Don't know whether or not he still does this, but he used to talk to every player released and thank him for the time he'd spent with the club.
At the league meetings in Phoenix one year, we were entertaining my wife's older brother and his wife at one of the parties. Jerry Jones came by and went out of his way to be particularly friendly to my brother in law. I can't think of another owner who would even have thought of it. I don't forget stuff like that. Nope, I like Jerry. Made the Redhead happy, made her family happy, made me happy.
• This is a tough one, from someone who signs it "Die Hard Niners Fan," no less. "Dr. Z needs to go to the movies or rent some so he can quote movies from the past half century." That's awfully cold, mister. The reason why I quote old movies is the screenplays were better in those days. And we'll leave it at that.
• Some very nice sentiments from Greg of Boynton Beach, Fla., and in the form of sincere thanks I'm going to give you a bit of history. Do you know who Boynton Beach is named after? It's Dr. Samuel J. Beach.
• My old TV partner, Brookie Decker, brings up the rear...no wait a minute, I sure as hell did not mean it like that. The last two queries are about Brooklyn and they come from Wes the Mess from Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Sonny from Rockford, Ill. Q1: Where is she? Q2: Another Z Said, She Said this year? Sorry, fellas, I sure could use the extra dough but Brookie's headed for the bombs of matrimony. And who's the lucky future groom, you ask? Drum roll, please. America's best tennis player, Andy Roddick.
For those of you who vainly seekOur current E-mailer of the Week,I must report with due chagrinThis week no entries get the win.