Monday, October 23, 2006

The Pimple, Week 7

I come to you tonight live from my living room as I watch Monday Night Football. No, this is not a running diary but don't be surprised if random comments about the game make their into this week's Pimple. It's an appropriate setting as well since I wish to reflect on this year's MNF broadcast, its debut on ESPN.

According to the majority of what I've heard and read, the combination of Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser have not been well-received. As for myself, I'm still not sure. I enjoy Kornheiser in the booth, but he and Theismann have zero chemistry. It seems as though Joe has absolutely no sense of humour and takes everything Kornheiser says at face value, when most of the time he's using that New York sense of humour that made him so popular on Pardon the Interruption. Tirico doesn't make much of an impact - he seems to call a good game, and doesn't get too involved in the banter between Joe and Tony.

I should say that I've never been much of a Theismann fan. However, I always gave him the benefit of the doubt because he was paired with Paul Maguire for so long, who is some village's long lost idiot. The all-time king of "I'm gonna tell you what", I thought he was rubbing off on Theismann in a negative way. Perhaps Theismann is still adjusting to Kornheiser, and perhaps he's so defensive because that's the only recourse he had while sitting next to Maguire for so long. It's still early in their broadcasting partnership, so I think I'll reserve the pounding that Theismann probably deserves for a little later. Perhaps he can lighten up.

Mainly, the problem I have with the current broadcast team is that ESPN conscientiously went out and tried to re-create the formula they believe put MNF on the map; straight man play-by-play caller (Frank Gifford),
former player-turned analyst ("Dandy" Don Meredith), and the controversial know-it-all (Howard Cosell). Mind you, the only thing I know about that MNF team is what I've seen in grainy video clips and from "Monday Night Mayhem", a movie based on the Marc Gunther and Bill Carter novel of the same name, so judge my conclusions with that in mind. It seems to me that the chemistry within that team happened organically, a flukey twist of fate that just clicked. When TV execs believe that they're smart enough to re-create lightning in a bottle, we're in trouble.

Everything about the current sports broadcasting landscape is scripted and formulaic, and then they wonder why none of the combinations seem to hit it off with fans! Meanwhile, the greatest sports-talk show around is Pardon the Interruption with Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. This show grew organically out of the genuine debates these two reporters would have in the Washington Post's news room. You see? A natural occurrence, lightning in a bottle - not some boardroom concoction. Perhaps the answer to Monday Night's football staleness is to have both Kornheiser and Wilbon in the booth.

This, however, is sports broadcasting heresy. Going without a former player or coach in the booth goes against convention, which says that only players and coaches can give proper insight into events unfolding on the field. Going against this unwritten broadcasting rule is a risk the executives of an established sports property would never take. Call it the "New Coke Syndrome". As long as the NFL product continues to rake in millions in advertising dollars, executives at ESPN and other networks will consider the product "ain't broke". And we all know what happens to things that "ain't broke". Therefore, we will continue to suffer through agonizingly condescending comments like "when there's under two minutes to go in a half, the replay has to come down from the booth", which celebrated its billionth utterance this past weekend. As Bruce Mr. Turk would say: "We know, already".

Speaking of Bruce Mr. Turk, he had the best line of the day on Sunday (as well as a Tomas Steen reference - Bruce Mr. Turk was on fire). Sometime during the 3rd quarter of the Dolphins game, I exploded:

- "Why the HELL do I always allow myself to get sucked in by this team? What could possibly compel me to think 'well, it's the Packers, they're sure to win this one' or 'Dolphins vs. Texans, I mean come on, they've got to win that one'. They've shown me nothing to persuade me that they're any good, so why in the world would I keep believing?"

- "See, I don't get why you hate on your team so much," countered Mr. Turk. "It's like you can't get excited about them, and you're just waiting for them to mess up. Yet you keep hoping. Just look at me, Dude. In my mind, my Niners are going 0-16 this year. When they do something positive, it's a celebration."

And then he dropped this gem on me: "Accept it. The Dolphins suck."

Wow, that was the intervention I was waiting for. It's good to know I can count on my closest friends to confront me with The Truth, and force me to come to my senses. Well, at least until next Sunday.

I have a friend and former colleague - we'll call him Ital-Dean - and he's a HUGE Eagles fan. If I can find any solace for my anger towards my team, it's that no matter how depressed I get about the Dolphins, Ital-Dean will find a way to agonize even more about the Eagles. I'm including a glimpse of an email I had waiting for me on Monday morning upon my arrival at work. Now keep in mind that Ital-Dean knows I support the Dolphins, and also knows that his team is far more successful this year than mine:

"I don't expect sympathy...but I hate the Eagles. They
gave games away to the Giants, Saints and Bucs. They have no idea how to close,
or start a game for that matter. They play in the 3rd quarter and that's it. If
I was Jeff Lurie, I would fine each of the player 3/4 of their salaries until
they decide to play 4 full quarters of football. I'm not even kidding, I don't
know if that's allowed by NFLPA standards but I would try. Why would I give
someone a full salary if they are only giving me 1/4 effort? There was a time
when I would say that the better team lost those games but no more.

Next week, they lose at home to the Jags. Write that down!

The only thing they are good for is fantasy points.

McNabb says they are a Superbowl team... they aren't even a
playoff team and should they by some freak chance make the playoffs, don't
deserve to be there."

Then we got on the topic of Nick Saban saying: "I don't know how to coach mess-ups", clearly in reference to his frustration that no matter what he says to the players, they are still making idiotic mistakes. Ital-Dean's take?

Hey I have no problem with that...

I think more coaches should do it, I wish Andy Reid would do it (although I often find myself questioning his choice of play calling). "Professional" (and I use that term
loosely) players are paid to play 4 quarters of football. By buying tickets to
the games, watching games on TV and buying the merchandise I, as a fan, am
paying for their salaries. In return I expect to see my team play 4 quarters of
football and if they don't, bench them, call them out, fine them, whatever

And to think I was getting down on myself for hammering away at the Dolphins. I can certainly sympathize with Ital-Dean.

MNF Game Update: The Drew Bledsoe era is OVER. Tony Romo into the game at halftime. Now we'll see just what Cowboys fans were clammoring f- INTERCEPTION! On his first pass. Ladies and Gentlemen: Tony Romo.

Changing gears: something else I noticed is the unfortunate plight of every team that won a championship pre-merger. Although football has been played in the States for over 80 years, we only acknowledge the winners of the 40 Super Bowls. For example, we consider the Steelers and Cowboys to have won the most football championships with their five respective Super Bowl victories. Take a closer look, however, and you'll see that many teams have won more than five championships, including the Green Bay Packers (11 + 3 Super Bowls), Chicago Bears (8 + 1 Super Bowl), and New York Giants (4 + 2 Super Bowls). It just seems like we're short-changing the players and coaches of those past champions when we only glorify Super Bowl victors.

Non, TA re!

With past legends in mind, I hearken back to last Monday's halftime celebration of former Cardinal great Dan Dierdorf. On the surface, everything about the ceremony was great; a fantastic former player getting recognized on a rare Monday Night performance for his former team, fans giving said player much adulation, former player getting teary-eyed as he gives the crowd a grateful wave. All good, right? Normally, no problem. Here's my beef: these were not his fans. The Arizona crowd never saw Dierdorf play, unless it was on TV, since his playing days were with the ST. LOUIS Cardinals. I acknowledge that this is a conundrum for franchises that have moved. But ask yourself this: wouldn't you feel awkward if the Phoenix Coyotes decided to raise Tomas Steen's jersey to the rafters of Glendale Arena? I don't think there's anything wrong with it, but it does feel a little "off".

You'll notice that one of the themes of this blog is certainly an impatience with the sports television product, as it is presented to us. I will often cite examples of instances where the television personalities will say something that simply make you scratch your head and wonder what planet they're from, or how dumb they think we are. One such example came Sunday afternoon. With eight minutes gone in the game, 1st quarter, the colour analyst for the Green Bay vs. Miami game lets this one fly: "Favre has been under duress for much of the afternoon." Really? We can say "afternoon" to represent two series? Or maybe this gentleman knew something we didn't, and Favre had been under duress in the locker room, or on the team bus to the stadium? If he did, he didn't tell us what it was. Perhaps Brett was ambushed by angry Cajuns because he lets his French name get massacred in the media? Or maybe Aaron Rodgers' mother keeps leaving threatening notes for Brett in his luggage? We'll never know. I realize the analyst's job is not an easy one, there's lots of pressure and the director is usually yelling stuff in your ear, but you have to wonder if a trained journalist could do a better job than these recycled jocks.

One of those recycled jocks, Troy Aikman, had a shocking moment on Sunday. During the Washington vs. Indianapolis game, Santana Moss took issue with a hard hit laid on him by Colts cornerback Jason David. In retaliation, Moss got up, rushed over to David (who was walking away) and head-butted him in the back of the neck. Aikman's reaction? Giggled like a little girl. Seriously! He started laughing and treating it like "boys will be boys". Two things allowed this happen, in my opinion:

1. Joe Buck, his regular broadcast partner, was not with him this week since he is doing the World Series for Fox. I can only imagine how "shocked" and "appalled" Buck would have been by such a "disgusting act" (actual quotes from Buck on other NFL related occurrences). Never would have Aikman even dared to laugh with Buck in the box with him.

2. Jason David is not a quarterback. Try imagining Aikman's reaction if, say, Shawn Taylor had done the same thing to Peyton Manning. Think he would have giggled and brushed it off?

And that's this week's Pimple.


Bruce said...

The 49ers also have 5 SuperBowls thanks you! :)

Anonymous said...

Awesome blog man! Definitely insightful.

Here's some extra fuel to your rant against the "canned broadcast formula" of the NFL:

The networks rarely ever try something different, and when they do, they botch it so severely that they're even more reticent to attempt unconventional formats. Hence the Dennis Miller experience. They tried something different to liven up the booth, but took the absolute worst approach to it: a comedian way too literate to sit beside John Madden. What could he say after Madden's "Boom!" that would seem at all coherent?

As for the Korn-Theis duo, you nailed the problem on the head: chemistry. I get the feeling Kornheiser loves highlighting all the idiotic braindroppings that Joe provides, and calls him out on them. Where before, he would try to incite discussion with completely inane opinions, and have Paul Maguire slowly work it back to a plausible theory, Kornheiser just blows the whole thing up by implying its just plain stupid to think that. And its about time someone does!

Anyway, good luck with your Dolphins. If only my Packers could play 16 times against them, we'd have a spectacular season! :)

Ottawa Sports Guy said...

Yes Bruce, how could I forget the Niners mighty victory against Natrone Means in Super Bowl X X I X?

And Steph, thank you for the kind words. The Miller Experiment was interesting, he was somewhat funny (this came before he became George W.'s travelling companion), but I believe the analyst in the booth with him was Dan Fouts. When Madden came over, they went to a 2-man booth, no?