In a high-tech world that too often is taken for granted, it is pleasing to pause once in a while and contemplate some of the wonders that science has bestowed upon us. We soon may have a neutron bomb that can quickly and painlessly send us into oblivion. We have something called superconductivity, which allows electrons and other tiny particles to zip through frozen space and turn on our lights faster than the electric company can turn them off when the bill is tardy. Speaking of tiny particles, we also have the keen minds of retired NFL officials sorting out the truly important matters of each weekend from the instant replay booth.
But, sadly enough, science has yet to come to grips with a phenomenon as basic as a molecule -- the fumble. In fact, the more NFL officials study this primal force of nature, the more confused they get. This is why I am now calling for the first international conference on fumbling -- a colloquy of experts who someday will emerge with a definitive ruling on the subject. I am already drafting the speech I will deliver when my efforts win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Men who played football back in the paleolithic ages of the 1950s never had to cope with such weighty material. They recall a misty past when, if somebody hit you and you dropped the ball, it was a fumble. The next step was to try and recover the ball. It never occurred to them to shout that the miscue shouldn't count because they were in somebody's grasp, or the ground had caused the fumble or some whistle had been blown from on high to save them their embarrassment.
Specifically, consider some of the fumbles and nonfumbles of recent weeks:A Buffalo tackler crushes Jay Schroeder from the blind side. The ball pops loose. Clear fumble, right? No. Referee Jerry Markbreit rules that in delivering the blow the defender "grasped" Schroeder. No fumble.The same day, a gang of Colts not only grasps Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien, but tosses him around like a rag doll. Finally the ball is jarred free. Ben Dreith lets this one stand as a fumble.Russ Francis of the 49ers is smashed by several Houston Oilers, who quickly grab the loose ball to produce a change of possession that might turn a game around. Sorry, Oilers. Although Francis' lean body is upright, his knee is grazing the ground. He retains possession.
The high-tech solution to this chaos seems inevitable. All ballcarriers should henceforth be equipped with superconductivity sensors in their helmets. If a person even thinks about fumbling, his motive will be transmitted to the replay booth, where those wonderful tiny particles will activate a whistle to stop play. Then we will have a perfect NFL world. There will be no fumbles.
Often, this type of quibbling can be interpreted as the pathetic whine of a loser. That is why I saved it for a week when I happened to pick 80 percent winners. And I'm getting it off my chest this week because I am not sure when there will be another 4-1 card. This weekend's games are among the most challenging of the season. The only guarantee is that if I fumble a few of them I won't blame it on the ground or somebody's grasp.
The Redskins are favored by 12 1/2 over the Lions. It is a rule of thumb that a person who is going to lay hazardous double-digit numbers should expect his team to win by 30. I expect the Redskins to win by 30. The Lions are coming off an exhilarating victory over a Dallas team that was in a perfect letdown situation. The Redskins should be angry after their loss in Philadelphia. Redskins minus 12 1/2.
If the Lions aren't the worst club in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons probably are. But the perverse ways of trend handicapping steer me to back the Falcons this week. The Cincinnati Bengals are favored by 6 at Atlanta. It's the Bengals' first game on real grass this season. They haven't been any bargain on carpets, but they are a definite liability on dirt. They have covered only five of their last 15 grass efforts. I know there are folks out there in white smocks who prepare cold sheets and straitjackets for those who pick teams that have been outscored by 76-3 in their last two outings. But they may not know that the last five times the Falcons have been routed at home they have covered in their next home opportunity. Falcons, gulp, plus 6.
The Browns are favored by 7 1/2 over Buffalo. The Bills believe in themselves after their whipping of Denver, and they showed ability to win on the road when they upset Miami. Buffalo plus 7 1/2.
The Houston Oilers, long the worst travelers in the NFL, face their third straight road game in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are favored by 3 1/2. But as your Watergate doorman probably mentioned as you slipped into your limo this morning, teams are only 16-40-3 as favorites after playing Kansas City in our lifetime. Mark Malone won for me last week. I hope he'll lose for me this time. Oilers plus 3 1/2.
The Raiders-Chargers game Sunday night is a key game for ESPN. It is going up against a TV movie about the Mayflower madam. Perhaps in recognition of this fact, the Raiders are starting milkshake-swilling Marc Wilson at quarterback. A vote for clean living by the Raiders? Hardly. It is time for the Chargers to come down to earth, and the Raiders love national TV. Raiders plus 4.
Last week: The Chargers, pick 'em, turned the traditional Dickerson fumble into victory, 16-13. The Bills, plus 5 1/2, dominated Denver, 21-14. Tampa Bay, leading, 28-3, in the fourth quarter and getting 2 1/2, contrived to ruin a perfect day, losing to the Cardinals, 31-28. The Steelers, plus 3 1/2, beat Kansas City, 17-16. The Jets, getting 3 1/2 and keeping their Monday night home record perfect, routed Seattle, 30-14.
Record for week: 4-1.
Record for season: 15-10. A winning campaign appears, pardon the expression, in the grasp.