It was the type of game that drew your undivided attention, especially if you're the type who stomps his feet and screams "more, more, more" as Rambo wipes out a Cambodian village, Harry Callahan blitzes a San Francisco street or John McClain downs a 747 full of bad guys with a thimble, a piece of string and a ballpoint pen.
Cleveland playing at Houston last Sunday night (ESPN) was unconscionable, a disgusting display of what the great game of football has become when the sole purpose of the NFL, it appears, is to satisfy the bloodlust of fans.
A receiver went up for a pass and the defensive back dived at his facemask helmet-first, assuring both would be knocked cold, or worse. The announcer squealed, "Incomplete pass . . . Oh, what a shot!" A series of replays from every conceivable angle ensued, a stretcher was summoned to clear the wreckage and the analyst assured that no player was out there to hurt anyone. To prove it, perhaps, over the Astrodome loudspeaker came the joyous strains of "Hidey, Hidey, Ho," suggesting everyone was having a good time.
Two plays later, another vicious, unnecessary and illegal swipe was directed at a player's head. The perpetrator missed by an eyelash of tearing a guy's head off, so there was no call.
Bodies littered the landscape. We watched replays as the announcers speculated about dislocated shoulders and how long it takes for a guy to return from having his bell rung.
Excessive force and outright brutality were rampant but somehow escaped detection by the on-field officials, the announcers and the Rip Van Winkles in the replay booth.
Several plays were called into review by the instant-replay official and his decisions smacked of out-and-out fraud or an overdose of dramamine. Another of Houston's band of small, quick receivers went down and Cleveland's defensive secondary celebrated excessively.
Night Train Lane, pshaw, give me Steven Segal, Billy Jack, Bruce Lee and Jean Claude Van Damme back there and I'll show you public executions. Meanwhile, several coaches, led by Jimmy Johnson of Dallas, wailed about a day abounding with bad calls.
Would that someone notice what's being passed off as football and take steps to alleviate the mayhem. Unless, of course, this is the NFL's way of saying it favors capital punishment.
* "Sabatini has a big confidence problem right now . . . Capriati has been on a two-month break in school and there are no free passes in a tournament like this [Virginia Slims Championships]. They're all tough matches . . . young players have a problem these days, not because of coaches but because of coaches and fathers. They hear stuff from dad, a coach and other people and it can be confusing."
Yes, that's Pam Shriver speaking, straight from the hip, as usual, which pretty much assures the Slims title match Sunday (1 p.m.) on ABC will be a good show. No cliches, soft peddling the issues or sticking to the party line for this woman.
"I think similar to my tennis game," Pam said, "I have my own style when broadcasting. I try to work in some humor and, since I know them so well, bring out the personalities of the players." Maybe what she says stings some of her colleagues sometimes, but not so severely that she wasn't recently elected president of the Women's Tennis Assocation.
Also in the booth for the $3 million five-set final (ugh!) will be Cliff Drysdale and Arthur Ashe.
* HBO has another goodie on the way and "Play by Play: A History of Sports Television" will no doubt be a hit because it is so slickly done. All the networks contributed a noted sportscaster to the mix and the behind-the-scenes people did a great job ferreting out the footage we never tire of seeing. One complaint is there's not enough Roller Derby. Part 1 goes Dec. 3 (10 p.m.) with the conclusion Dec. 10 at the same time. Don't worry, it will be on almost as many times as "Miracle on 34th Street" before we ring in 1992.
* Memo to Jeff Rimer and several other offenders: When the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the six, that means it's 6 o'clock, the designated release time for the news that Cal Ripken had won the American League's MVP award the other day. For reasons known only to them, several radio news hawks jumped the gun, some even reminding their listeners that this was a scoop.
* HBO, which sends along the Evander Holyfield-Bert Cooper rumble tomorrow (10 p.m.), wants it known that it will be sweeping sports bars across the land for the purpose of apprehending those pirating the signal. Last year, a check of 300 bars in seven cities resulted in 127 lawsuits and the payment of substantial penalties.
* ESPN already has its schedule of Sunday night 1992 baseball telecasts set and Jon Miller will be happy to know he'll just have to drive downtown for his June 21 assignment: Yankees at Orioles. The first game of a tripleheader April 8 has Toronto at Detroit and Cecil Fielder should be cooled down by then.
Also, ABC has its WLAF (What a Laugh) slate for the spring doped out and part of the March 22 doubleheader is a game between Orlando and TBA. The latter is the expansion team that hasn't been named yet.
* SportsChannel just picked up 2.5 million households for its NHL package, but they're in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, mainly, which is like shipping a truckload of bikinis up to the Aleutians.
* The top college football games tomorrow figure to be Ohio State-Michigan (noon, ABC), Virginia-Virginia Tech (noon, Ch. 50) and California-Stanford in "The Big Game" (3:30 p.m., ABC) . . . If hoops is your thing, Duke takes on a Soviet touring team at 4 p.m. on NBC.