So where was Howard Cosell when we needed him?
Oh, sure, you would have gotten sick and tired of him talking about the New York Football Giants (though judging from that 7-3 final score last night, you did need a reminder that they weren't playing baseball), but you could have counted on Cosell for telling it like it was, letting everyone know that the most ballyhooed Monday Night Football game in years was a pure stinkeroo.
It's been a decade since ABC's Monday night NFL broadcasts have been the phenomenon they were for much of the 1970s. But last night promised to be different. Despite the losses suffered by the Giants and the San Francisco 49ers a week ago, this was the meeting of the two best teams in football. It was going to be another Tuesday morning did-you-stay-up-and-watch-it? conversation starter.
Instead, it was a Monday night I-can't-believe-I-gave-up-"Murphy Brown."
You can't blame the current Monday Night Football broadcasting team of Frank Gifford, Al Michaels and Dan Dierdorf for the utter failure of the teams on the field to generate excitement. But, in the olden days, once it became clear that the game was going to fall so far short of its billing, you would have stuck around just to hear Cosell and Don Meredith deliver their opinions on the matter.
When the NFL debuted on Monday Nights, it reached out for the prime-time viewers, which included people who looked to their televisions for comedy and drama, not post patterns and slot formations.
Meredith might have been a star pro quarterback, but he wasn't there for his football knowledge, he was there for his entertainment value. He was the fool to Cosell's Lear. Play-by-play man Gifford was supposed to be the Greek chorus to this tragicomedy, but too often even the names of the players were Greek to him.
The dynamics of that announcing team brought pro football to an entirely new audience and helped build the popularity it enjoys today. Last night's was the the type of game that could once again draw in those casual fans. But if it did, not only did they see a terrible football game, they also didn't get much entertainment from the booth.
Imagine being a casual fan watching early in the game and hearing Dierdorf say, "He got so far upfield the kick out was really the block." Huh? Would Meredith have ever said anything like that? Not hardly.
Indeed, imagine being a casual fan and trying to endure that game last night when the highlights consisted of two fumble runbacks interspersed among such exciting plays as a missed field goal, several busted screen passes, numerous un-penalized intentional groundings, and, don't forget those spine-tingling fair catches of many of the game's 568 punts.
Really, Cosell and crew could have had a marvelous time with this, but these guys just sit there and actually try to analyze it. It's after 11:30 and Dierdorf is trying to get you excited about the great job turned in by the San Francisco secondary. Right.
One problem with the current ABC announcing team is that their roles are not clearly defined. Michaels does the play-by-play, but otherwise everybody seems to do a bit of everything. There's no tension, no drama, no feeling of characters interacting.
Indeed, the voices of Michaels, Gifford and Dierdorf are too similar. If you listen, you can tell which one is talking, but you have to stop and think about it. There was never any mistaking Cosell for Meredith, or Dandy Don for Gifford.
Then again, that's also because what they were saying was so distinctive, while what this current trio has to say is so similar. Michaels should be providing the supporting role, but instead he has to step in and take charge to prevent this from being a pure case of the bland leading the bland.
The pictures are still fine, the ratings are good because the football audience hasn't declined as the overall network audience has eroded, but in what should have been a showcase game for a huge audience, the Monday Night Football announcing crew showed that, unlike their heralded predecessors, they are just Sunday afternoon transplants, not really prime-time prospects.