This week's pro football topic is (pause) instant (yawn) replay.
At the mention of these words, please do not gag, rant or slip out for a seven-course snack in the secure knowledge that you'll be back for the next play. Consider yourself "in the grasp." No, I'm not throwing a yellow flag at the feet of a quarterback. I'm waving a white flag. As in surrender.
I am not talking about my miserable recent performance, which has left me one game under .500 for the season. I will get to that later, after a 24-minute instant replay review that will be determined inconclusive. For now, I offer a forthright confession: I've always favored instant replay.
Even when it failed to work, I stood my ground. I figured that all it required was a bit of fine-tuning. The kind that might make 2 Live Crew sound vaguely like Mozart.
First, the NFL needed to hire sharper people to review the tapes and make the decisions.
Second, better use could be made of the wondrous technology of television. Surely networks that can take us to the moon or Iraq -- I'll take the moon, thanks -- can manage cameras on every sideline.
Third, the system needed an infusion of that rarest of bureacratic traits: It needed people with the courage to make a decision.
Finally, in lieu of courage, we get copouts. This trend started years ago, with the invasion of the ground can't cause a fumble, in-the-grasp and the plane of the goal line. (Have you ever noticed the plane of the goal line? It's that shifty little Cessna that weaves endlessly above the end zone, sending signals to confused zebras about when to signal touchdowns.) Now the coup de grace. When the field officials have humiliated and disgraced themselves so much even the boothies can't look the other way, they are still given a safety valve: "The play is not subject to further review, because the whistle had already stopped play on the field."
Off hand, I have attempted a list of experiences more boring than a replay delay:
2. Listening to each week's rumor about which team has offered Bill Walsh a job.
3. Listening to Bill Walsh.
4. Second wife's alimony.
This is meant to be a clever segue into the fact that I am busted, disgusted and casting about blindly in the great replay booth of purgatory. One game under .500, my worst record ever at this point in a year. Am I discorded and hesitant? Under further review, no.
Scared beyond belief by Warren Moon last week, the Chiefs sunk from division leaders to a club that must battle to make the playoffs. They are favored by 2 at San Diego, and Steve Pelluer replaces wounded Steve DeBerg at quarterback. The Chiefs have covered six straight on road grass. And every elf in Santa's workshop knows that Kansas City won its last four regular season games played within six days of Christmas. Deck the halls with Chiefs minus 2.
The Oilers are favored by 2 1/2 in Cincinnati. The Houston offense looks impossible to stop. The Bengals hardly stop anyone. The Bengals also are hurting. Looks easy, right? But wait. Sam Wyche may be a little crazy, but he's not dumb. His keen eyes have focused on the Oilers for a week, and he'll stop them somehow. Bengals to stay in their wild division race, take the 2 1/2.
The Eagles and the Cowboys hate each other. In Philadelphia, the Eagles are 6 1/2 to severely damage the long shot Cowboys' playoff dream. Of course, we all know that Buddy Ryan wouldn't think of putting bounties on important Cowboys, or running up the score if he has the chance. This makes it a rare occasion on which I'll give this many points. Eagles minus 6 1/2.
The best encounter this week sees the Bills giving 3 1/2 at home to the Dolphins. With Jim Kelly out, Frank Reich will quarterback the Bills. In brief appearances, Reich has delivered, but he's no Kelly. And no Dan Marino. This should be a fierce, close battle -- too close to be laying more than a field goal. I like the Dolphins plus 3 1/2.
I'm planning to watch as much as a human can stand of the Patriots at the Jets. The Jets are favored by 7. The Phillips-Exeter Academy might be favored by 7 over New England, assuming the preschool had a strong week of practice. But beware: The Patriots' only three covers this year were as road underdogs. They covered 17 of their last 19 as road dogs in their division. The Jets, conversely, are a dismal 4-22 as home favorites in their division. This clash should set back football as we know it about two decades. But it won't set me back. Take those fighting Patriots, plus 7.
Last week: I guess I can't put this off any longer. Why did I give 3 1/2 with the Giants against an equally physical Buffalo team? I'm still pondering. And the Giants were losers, 17-13. The Chiefs, giving 3 1/2 to the Oilers, were run at, shot at and left as road kill. Oilers, 27-10. The Cardinals, getting 5 1/2 from Dallas, found their level, bowing 41-10. The Bears, giving 3 to the Lions, were carried out of the Silverdome, 38-21. Would the carnage never cease? Yes, Monday night the 49ers, giving 5 1/2, trounced the Rams in a game that surely turned the season around.
Total for week: 1-4.
Total for season: 37-38. Upon further review . . .