Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sports A Go-Go

The less said about that Cowboys-Giants horrorshow the other nite on MNF the better. The less thought about it, even mo' better. A litany of mistakes, miscues and mistimed plays later, we sit at 3-3, 10 games left to go, and it looks like Drew Bledsoe's days as starting QB material are over. Tony Romo started the second half and showed flashes -- flashes of effectiveness, flashes of brilliance, mixed in with all too many ill-advised throws and decisions -- throwing for 2 TDs to go along with 3 INTs. But you know what, better a first-year starter makes those mistakes than a 14-year vet; at least Romo has a chance to learn from his struggles -- something Bledsoe has shown no indication he's capable of.

As I said to my friend Tom right before halftime, after Bledsoe threw one of those Ya Gotta Be Shitting Me interceptions down at the goal line when, as poorly as they played and as much as the officials were doing their best to tilt the game in favor of the Giants, Dallas was still only down 12-7, Bledsoe is basically making the same mistakes a rookie would make. Hey, we gave Bledsoe a shot, now we have to find out if Romo can be the franchise QB going forward. That's what they should use the rest of the season to determine. Let the Tony Romo era officially commence.

The Cowboys are a young team on defense and on offense, except for the starting WRs. There is no imperative to win it all this year at any costs, except for the obvious: Bill Parcells is not getting any younger, and a few more games like the other night and you could see him hightailing out of Big D sooner rather than later. But he's assembled enough talent to undeniably have the team moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, he might not be the one to reap the benefit. That honor may go to another coach who might not even be with the team at this moment. How about Jeff Fisher being let go by the Tennessee Titans after this year and Jerry Jones scooping him up? That's a possibility because, with Sean Peyton getting the Saints job last year, there is really no head coaching level talent being groomed on the current staff.

Interesting article I saw today from a Boston area writer on the occasion of Bledsoe being traded to the Bills four years ago after Tom Brady beat him out. It touches on eerily familiar terrain in terms of Bledsoe being a standup guy but no longer an elite QB, not being interested in grooming young QBs, etc. Seeing Bledsoe's sulky demeanor on the sidelines Monday after being replaced by Romo was a case of deja vu all over again.

Now let's move on to the ESPN telecast itself, the first time I had seen a Monday Night Game this year. From the computer generated opening sequence to the incessant Tiki Barber clips, the nonstop chatter of their two sideline reporters, the constant interviews, to the announcers themselves, it was an exercise in aggravation.

Monday Night Football started over 35 years ago with the then-unheard-of notion of putting three combustible egos in one broadcasting booth and letting the sparks fly. And it worked because it was new and different at the time, and people therefore expected the unexpected. But that was when the trio consisted of Howard Cossell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford. Giving hard new evidence that nothing in American culture seems to ever change for the better, as well as ammunition to those who insist that anything and everything ESPN touches usually turns to crap (I mean ESPN TV; ESPN Radio is actually pretty good), viewers in 2006 are now subjected to the ravings and ramblings disguised as commentary of Joe Theisman, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Tirico. When we go from Dandy Don Meredith to Theisman, and from Cossell to Kornheiser, it's been more than a long strange trip and more like a bad national nightmare. The difference being, everybody loved Meredith, while nobody will go on record saying they can even stand Theisman. In all fairness, Theisman has mellowed in recent years, but he is the only one in the booth capable of making a cogent football-related point.

Tirico's biggest crime is his blandness, which is not all that big a negative for a play by play man. (See Gifford, Frank.) Theisman, you know what you're getting with him: a motormouth who seems intent on spinning the action so that he can bring up his NFL career as often as possible, even though he's been out of the league for close to 20 years now. Kornheiser is the biggest offender with his stream of consciousness monologues alternated with vapid, corny repartee usually aimed at Theisman. He asked so many clueless questions on fundamental elements of the game that even casual fans with a passing interest in football have mastered that you half-expected him to ask, "So Joe, is it still 10 yards for a first down?" I mean, if you don't know the game inside and out, then you have no business being in the fucking booth. Kornheiser is not only totally unfunny, but his knowledge of the game is closer to Dennis Miller than John Madden for godsakes. He actually used the "I thought he had a rib joint" line when Tony Romo entered the game. Embarrassing.

Then there are the sideline gals. Michell Tafoya is okay if unnecessary, as are all sideline reporters in my opinion. Suzy Kolber is a lethal combination: so in love with the sound of her own voice while having no filter that knows when enough is enough. On and on she goes, through game action -- babbling like an inane drone, as Cossell himself would have been the first to point out.

The game itself was basiscally a subplot, playing a distant second fiddle to promoting one of the most phony, annoying, self-centered athletes in modern sports history: Tiki Barber. Around every, oh, 6 or 7 seconds you could expect a video clip of Barber giving us his take on everything from his impending retirement, the Giants' chances of winning the Super Bowl and his new children's book, to Pluto being downgraded from a planet, the War in Iraq, global warming and advice on the best time to plant this year's hydrangeas. The announcers seemed positively smitten with closeups of Barber's gleaming set of enormous white teeth framed in a mouth that appeared to be the size of a cartoon rhinoceros, so smug and satisfied with himself. Alas, it was all too fugacious, but the sight of Barber sprawled out cold on the Texas Stadium turf after a vicious hit by Dallas' DeMarcus Ware warmed my heartstrings there for a moment. I would have settled for a career-ending concussion or contusion or something brain-related, nothing life-threatening mind you. Hey, that's football. Like fatalities and casualties among your enemies in warfare, you root for injuries and hardship for your opponent in the sport of football. That's just the way it is. If anything, the Cowboys are not gonna start winning again until they develop more of a nasty/mean streak. Bottom line: nice guys do not intimidate, and this is a league and a sport where it's kill or be killed.

The broadcast also featured more in-game interviews than a week's worth of Nightline. In addition to the prerecorded Barber spots, viewers who naively thought they were tuning in to watch a football game were instead bombarded by lengthy interviews with the likes of Hank Williams Jr., Emmitt Smith, and Jerry Jones, interspersed with ex-Giant/crackhead Lawrence Taylor intoning mindlessly on the Cowboys-Giants rivalry. All these interruptions only distracted from the telecast.

And it's not only football. The Mets-Cards series, especially when the games were at Shea, served only as a backdrop for endlessly jarring shots of individual fans in the crowd. Now, we know the crowd is gonna be there at a sporting event, that's a given. But aren't we there to watch the game itself, and not the people who are watching the game? Call me crazy, but if you're lucky enough to get tickets to a playoff game, don't you focus on the players? Sure, you look at the people surrounding you once in a while, but you can see your fellow fan anytime -- on the subway, while at work -- but how often are you that close to your favorite team? Why should a telecast be any different? There are constant cuts from the pitcher to the crowd back to the batter back to the crowd back to the pitcher back to the fans and finally here's the pitch. Enough already. We don't need a closeup of some 50-year-old fat guy in a Jose Reyes jersey. Some producer thought it was a good idea. Trust me, it's not. The problem is that the network gets some foolish notion that showing the stands constantly makes for an innovative broadcast, but they are not the ones being subjected to it at home.
It seems former Cowboy great Emmitt Smith is warming the hearts of millions with his scintillating turns on the dance floor on ABC's Dancing With The Stars. I haven't watched much of it but whenever I come across the show it seems Emmitt is always on. I really can't take my eyes off his dance partner, she is just smoking! Always a class act in his playing days, Emmitt is just a down to earth superstar, which is a rare combo. And he is not disgracing the Cowboys brand so to speak in any way.

Speaking of disgraces, yes, Dallas may have lost those two Super Bowls to the Steelers in the 1970s, and you can't get those back anymore, but if you told me we could add those two Lombardi trophies to the display cabinet outside Jerry Jones office at Valley Ranch, but the price would be that our QB, Roger Staubach, would go on to play the absolute fool a la their QB, Terry Bradshaw, for the next, oh, 30 or so years, that is a price I would not be willing to pay. Someone thinks it's cute that Bradshaw acts like a total dope every week on the Fox NFL pre-game show, coming off like a white trash redneck dumbass. Staubach, meanwhile, retains his dignity and regal bearing to this day.

George Allen Sr., of course, was the head coach of the Cowboys' chief rival, the Washington Redskins, for many years and was singularly instrumental in forging the bad blood between the two franchises that persists to this day. Never mind that he cultivated an unhinged, mentally unbalanced persona; we all thought at the time that it was nothing more, nothing less than an act designed to get the best out of his teams and to appeal to his players' most elemental emotions, which can never be underestimated in a sport where motivation is an essential cornerstone of game preparation. Well, it looks like the apple doesn't fall all that far from the old oak tree, because of the scores of candidates running for office in next month's elections, no one has had their sanity called into question with more frequency than Allen's son, George Jr., whose stream of campaign faux pas has provided a never-ending source of amusement and disdain. So much so that a recent report indicated that Allen's own handlers have advised the racist blowhard to just shut up until after the election, lest he permanently lodge foot in mouth or head up ass beyond all hope of repair.

So yeah, some troubled times in Big D, but sometimes you are defined just as much by what you are not as by what you are. Now let me get on the horn to the Big Tuna and share my latest plans for resurrecting the franchise.

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