"Some of these games, I don't know," Artie Donovan was saying. "Like Sunday night, they have the Vikings and Packers on television, and I'm supposed to watch that? Who cares? It's like watching Tampa Bay against the Poor Sisters of the Sick. It's a waste of God-given time."
Sort of the same as flying to California to be on Johnny Carson, and then not getting brought out until there are two minutes left in the show. That happened to Artie last month.
"This girl said they'd love to have me back," he said. "I told her it's a hell of a long way to come to sit in a room for an hour."
I was talking football with Artie yesterday. I called him because I'm getting worried about the Super Bowl again.
As I watched the Redskins shatter the Miami Dolphins Sunday, it occurred to me that except for maybe the Buffalo Bills -- maybe -- there aren't any AFC teams that rate with the San Francisco 49ers or New York Giants.
That means trouble. That means, potentially, another Super bust, another deadly ending to an NFL season. That means the entire country is relying on Buffalo. What a concept.
"Let me get this straight," Artie said. "The 49ers and Giants can't play in the Super Bowl, right?"
Artie does not pretend to peruse the standings with a microscope. But he knows football. He once told me the Dallas Cowboys would never win with quarterback Danny White because "The guy is cross-eyed, and you can't win with a quarterback who can't see straight." The Cowboys never made the Super Bowl with him.
"See," Artie was saying yesterday, "what they have is this, what do they call it, priority?"
You mean parity?
"Yeah, priority, parity. Pete Rozelle said he wanted everyone equal. Well, they're equal. They're all lousy. Except for the Giants and 49ers. And the Bears, Bills and Dolphins."
Wait. The same Dolphins that got blown out Sunday?
"I didn't see the game 'cause I was riding in the mayor's parade," Artie confessed. "But it's like, how can Shula's defense all of a sudden get that good after being lousy so long? You follow me? It's like his bubble had to burst sometime. You just don't get that good in one year."
The point is well taken. You can tell the AFC is weak because it doesn't take long to go from bottom to top, or vice versa. The Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns, who played in the AFC championship last season, are a combined 5-19 this season.
"I feel sorry for Dan Reeves," Artie said. "But Elway is getting his comeuppance finally. Who is anyone to come into a city and tell them you don't want to play there? You can tell his father is a coach. Anyone whose father is a coach shouldn't be allowed to play.
"And Cleveland, they quit on their coach. Anyone who can't pass on them ought to give it up. They stand around pointing at each other. And their left offensive tackle, I don't even know his name, but he oughta have to pay to get in the game. He was patting guys on the butt as they went by."
The best teams in the AFC, or so it appears, are the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills have won nine of 10 and Sunday beat the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the NFC's best. The Chiefs are 3-0 against the NFC.
Artie likes the Chiefs, sort of. "Is that the same DeBerg whose been around all these years? How old is he anyway? And how can he all of a sudden be that good? I don't get it. But he throws the hell out of the ball."
The other AFC division leader is Cincinnati. "But Boomer isn't as good as I thought he was going to be, great one week, terrible the next," Artie said. "And the Raiders aren't bad, but they can't win it with that quarterback [Jay Schroeder]. The best thing Joe Gibbs ever did was get rid of that guy."
The Bills, on the other hand, are set at quarterback with Jim Kelly. Personally, I don't trust them. They're mediocre away from home, a trait shared by all the AFC teams that bomb in the Super Bowl. But they do have talent.
"They beat a pretty good Eagles team," Artie said. "And that Kelly's something. But you know, [Ted] Marchibroda is their offensive coach. He wasn't much of an offensive coach when he was with the Colts."
Artie wonders about a lot of coaches these days. "All these geniuses working 25 hours a day," he said. "Well, the Redskins have this play where they line up two extra guys on one side and run the other way. All the geniuses haven't figured that one out yet.
"You wonder when they're sleeping in the office if maybe they don't have a bed at home."
Artie also wonders about the players today. "They talk about quick feet and quick hands, whatever the hell that means. And they got so much crap on they can't even get down in a three-point stance. Then the linemen stand up straight to pass block as soon as the ball is snapped. You can see a pass coming a mile away."
But the Super Bowl, Artie, what about it? Is there any hope out there in the AFC wasteland for the 100 million people who will watch?
"I'd have to go with Miami," he said. "Shula's the best coach, him and Ditka, and you want the best coach if it's down to one game. But I don't know. I think it's going to be hard to beat the Giants or 49ers. One of the Giants' best plays is a screen pass, you know. That's only 50 years old. What we really need is a genius who can figure out how to stop it."