At century's end, America is in a fourth-down frenzy. Suddenly, fourth down's become first strike. Hyper-aggressors such as Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson would rather go for broke than give it up. Everybody's Rambo. Everybody's macho. Everybody's in an SUV trying to run you off the road.
Each fourth down is treated like a life-threatening emergency. A constant sense of desperation pervades the sideline. Fall behind by 10 points in the second quarter, you go for fourth and seven at your 48--or, you think, we'll lose and I'll get fired. Get close to the goal line in a tight game, you go for fourth and goal from the 3--or, you think, we'll lose and I'll get fired.
Sunday night in Buffalo, Parcells's Jets had fourth and goal inside the 1 in a scoreless game. He declined to take the sure, 3-0 lead. He went for the touchdown; the Bills stuffed fullback Jerald Sowell, then drove 99 yards to go ahead, 7-0. The Jets never recovered.
It's beyond The Man why teams refuse to TAKE THE POINTS. Football is old-fashioned in one fundamental way: They still keep score. At the end of the game, the team with the highest total wins. TAKE THE POINTS. In the game of life, one in the hand is better than two in the bush; in the game of football, three on the board is better than six in the bush. TAKE THE POINTS. Please.
Coaches should adhere to these simple fourth-down guidelines:
If you're close enough for a field goal, kick it.
If you're not close enough for a field goal, punt it.
(Note: If you're the Browns, take the safety.)
(Speaking of scoreboards and strategy, many coaches also don't know when to go for a two-point conversion. Hey, you don't need an engineering degree from MIT to figure this stuff out. In fact--and no offense intended here--you could be on academic probation at the DeVry Institute and be able to master this two-point math.)
(Historical Note: If the NFL's current instant replay system were in place in 1536, Ann Boleyn could've "challenged" Henry VIII's beheading of her.)
(TV Note: Although the FCC is in a "hands-off" mode, it is looking long and hard at all Tim Green telecasts on Fox.)
As always, the following point-spread picks should not be used as the basis for any actual cash wager:
Colts (-1) at Chargers: I'm rooting for Mike Riley as much as the next guy. But he was 8-14 at Oregon State. Eight and 14! Since when does 8-14 get you into the NFL? Frankly, 8-14 should get you into Sam Wyche's Chevy en route to Sizzler. Plus, this week Riley runs into my Colts, who are en route to galloping ingloriously into Super Bowl XXXIV. Pick: Colts.
Browns at Ravens (-13): Deloitte & Touche calculates a .000017 percent chance of Ravens' Brian Billick finishing his NFL head coaching career with more victories than losses. . . . Last Sunday, Browns QB Tim Couch accidentally wore wristband with his old plays from Kentucky. Pick: Ravens.
Bengals at Panthers (-8): Q. How many Bengals does it take to screw in a light bulb? A. None. Bruce Coslet usually keeps his teams in the dark. . . . Coaching Carolina, George Seifert might become first man to have white hair turn gray. Pick: Panthers.
Redskins (-1) at Jets: Back-to-back trips to New Jersey? Who made out the Redskins' schedule, Joe Piscopo? . . . Jets blame lack of scoring on Meadowlands' "environmentally protected" end zones. Pick: Jets.
Bears at Raiders (-7): Raiders reminder: No Super Bowls since the 1983 season, no playoff berth since 1993, no winning record since 1994. But in court, Al Davis smokes! Pick: Bears.
49ers (-2 1/2) at Cardinals: Like "Law & Order," 49ers are proof that the system works. . . . Topic of this week's Bill Walsh Tuesday lecture series: "Game Planning and You." Pick: 49ers.
Giants at Patriots (-6 1/2): To be honest, Giants QB Kent Graham has that Biff Loman feel. . . . Exactly how much sick leave does this Jason Sehorn have? Pick: Patriots.
Vikings at Packers (even): "You kill the head of the snake, the body dies." Are you listening, Green Bay? Somebody block for Brett, for goodness sakes! Pick: Vikings.
Broncos at Buccaneers (-2): Privately, Broncos' Bubby Brister claims that when he turns on helmet radio, all he hears is adult contemporary music. Pick: Buccaneers.
Lions at Chiefs (-4): Without Barry Sanders, Lions are 2-0. Improbable, you say? Then again, without Farrah Fawcett, "Charlie's Angels" got better. Pick: Chiefs.
Titans at Jaguars (-9 1/2): When I see Titans QB Neil O'Donnell run a bootleg, I'm thinking too much boot, not enough leg. Pick: Titans.
Seahawks at Steelers (-4 1/2): In Seattle, normal big plays are called "grande" and really big plays are called "venti." Pick: Seahawks.
Eagles at Bills (-12): Eagles playbook now features third-and-long "pullout section." Pick: Eagles.
Falcons (-1) at Rams: Last time Rams were in first place, C. Everett Koop was still smoking. Pick: Falcons.
Last week: 5-9-1. Season record: 10-19-1.*
(*The Man is adopting a new system--this week, I blindfolded myself when flipping a coin.)