West Coast defense is all the rage

Wade Phillips, recently shown the door by the Texans -- his defense only finished seventh overall in 2013, get rid of the bum! -- was fired by the Bills as head coach in 2000, after refusing to scapegoat assistants by firing them. Buffalo had been 29-21 with playoff appearances in its first two years under Phillips; the front office and fan base were furious because in his next season, the team "missed the playoffs for only the third time in 13 years." The Bills have not made playoffs since! Perhaps the football gods cursed Buffalo for firing a head coach who was a winner and who had the backs of his staff. If so, the next few years for the Houston Texans may be unpleasant.

The Bills' playoff drought is a league-worst 14 years, beginning with the dismissal of bald-eagle Phillips. I grew up in Buffalo, and it's been excruciating for all true sons and daughters of the city to watch the once-proud franchise bungle away season after season -- blown draft picks, bad player-management decisions, a succession of head coaches who appear to be taking naps on the sideline. The latest in a long line of indignities will be the NFC title game -- stars Marshawn Lynch and Donte Whitner both sent packing by the Bills.

Besides the firing of a bald eagle, there's something else that happened in the football artificial universe 14 years ago -- TMQ began. One of my frustrations is that in the entire 14 years I've cranked out this column, I have never gotten to tout my hometown team, because the Bills consistently have been bad. What if the reason the Bills have missed the postseason for 14 years is not the Phillips Curse but the TMQ Curse? I'm signed to do this column through the end of the coming season, so the Bills' condition may not improve.

The Road to the Swamps: The Super Bowl will be played in New Jersey, but all the talk will be of New York. So TMQ will try to keep the focus on New Jersey.

I asked readers for quirky facts about the Garden State. Fred Bartlett of Hamilton, N.J., wrote, "Bridges and tunnels on New Jersey borders only have tolls one way. Getting in is always free, but you must pay to leave." Tim Lowell of Dickinson, Texas points out, "Jersey is known for the unusual jug-handle traffic pattern. Let's call this the Jug Handle Bowl." Brian McGuire of Ellicott City, Md., writes, "New Jersey is one of two states (Oregon) where it is illegal to pump your own gas." Theo Vander Wilt ?of Mount Holly, N.J., reports, "The dirt MLB uses to rub down balls before games comes from the Rancocas Creek in New Jersey."

New Jersey has been on the nation's front pages for a week, and as usual, for all the wrong reasons. Gov. Chris Christie, who not long ago was mocking those who said lane closures had been used to create traffic jams in a city whose mayor didn't support him, last week admitted this was true but claimed he was never told the traffic jams occurred. Of course he doesn't know what happens to average people on roads -- he takes personal trips in state-owned helicopters, at public expense. At least one Jersey pol apparently fears criminal charges may result from the lane-closure mess. Only in New Jersey!

Newspaper readers surely are weary of the ruckus over highway cones, though the real issue is the credibility of a potential presidential candidate.

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