Dennis Miller punch-hits for ESPN show

The TV Repairman:

February 26, 1993|By Phil Jackman

No more than 15 seconds into the teleconference, everyone knew ESPN hadn't gone the easy route and picked Dennis Miller off a rack marked comedians to host its Excellence in Sports Performance Awards show next Thursday (9-11:30 p.m.).

A very funny guy, yes, but the former "Saturday Night Live" mainstay and former late-night talk show host turns out to be a huge sports fan, too. Two for the price of one.

For instance, out of the blue he blurted out the starting lineup of the Houston team with Elvin Hayes that opposed the UCLA team with Lew Alcindor in the famed Astrodome TV game in the late '60s. He then tossed in the names of the Jacksonville five featuring Artis Gilmore in the NCAA tournament of 1970 for good measure.

"Not even vaguely did I want to be a sportscaster when I was growing up," Miller said. "It just didn't seem like a good occupation to me. But I wanted to be part of sports, so, like most kids, I memorized stuff."

Stuff, Miller admits, he has a tough time forgetting: "Did you know the name of the guy Woody Hayes slugged on the sidelines was Charlie Bowman?"

The "ESPYs" will honor individuals and teams in a million categories with tons of memorable highlight tape detailing the exploits, and ESPN is hoping its award becomes the "Oscar" of sports. Proceeds from the 900-number fan voting will benefit the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.

"I only met Arthur once and that was for just 10 minutes," Miller said. "He was easy to like and, over time, I sensed he was a brave man with a warrior's heart. He was so brave. I don't think this is a time to commiserate, but rather to get on with the task [of finding a cure]. That's what he would have wanted."

In keeping with his let's-keep-things-in-perspective style, Miller revealed that the award winners were selected via use of a Ouija board . . . that ballplayer Cecil Espy designed the award . . . that athletes have it all over the people in the entertainment world, "because they can actually do something" . . . and that Dick Vitale "no doubt upsets a lot of the coaches, but I find him the most entertaining announcer in America. Is there anyone anywhere who enjoys what he's doing as much as this guy does?"

As a Pittsburgh native, Miller says, "To this day one of the true mysteries to me is how ol' Pops [Willie Stargell] scored from first base on a double by Jose Pagan to win the World Series in Baltimore in 1971. I was there. A couple of us hitchhiked down from Pittsburgh, got into the stadium early and stood on the toilets as security people were making their sweep before the gates opened."

Miller already has prepared his opening monologue and now, he says, "I'll go into a sensory deprivation tank and, like William Hurt in "Altered States," I'll assume a primordial state and come out salivating just in time for the show. Then I'll wing it. You don't want to do a bunch of knock-knock jokes at something like this."

* Boy, it doesn't take much to get a fighter steamed up, I'll tell you. Vinny Pazienza and Brett Lally were trading niceties before their USA Network "Tuesday Night Fights" encounter next week when Lally casually suggested that Pazienza bring his girlfriend to the show at the Foxwood Casino in Ledyard, Conn.

Vinny, making his second start on a comeback after suffering a broken neck in 1991, hit the roof. "I've been a gentleman all along," Pazienza said. "But Brett and his brother have said some things that shouldn't have been said. Now I'm pumped up."

Things like what, Vinny?

"Brett said he was going to put me on the canvas. His brother Brad said I've never fought anyone. Stuff like that."

Hmmm, good thing the Lallys didn't ask Paz for the time of day.

Pazienza says he's taking the fight "very seriously," but at the same time he's thinking about a next opponent, perhaps Roberto Duran. In any case, the non-stop middleweight says he would like to be fighting for a title soon.

* Poor Chris Evert. All the years she played, she probably had no idea of the problems tennis tournament directors had putting on events and making the women rich. The final of the Evert Cup goes on ESPN Sunday (3 p.m.), but don't expect any of the biggies in the showdown.

When the two top seeds, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Capriati, pulled out (with injuries), Evert scurried around to get Martina Navratilova and/or Monica Seles, but they turned the invitation down even though $75,000 in appearance money was part of the bid. Live and learn.

* Maryland gets to go national tomorrow. Its game against Clemson will be on ESPN at noon. Wednesday's win over North Carolina State must have been more meaningful than most folks thought.

* Ex-Oriole (and about a dozen other teams) and new skipper of the Colorado Rockies Don Baylor says he first thought about managing when he used to listen to Jim Palmer second-guessing Earl Weaver's moves. Go ye and do likewise on Home Team Sports telecasts this season, Jimbo.

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