Throwback to AFL days lands a winner with Raiders-Broncos

January 10, 1994|By Phil Jackman

The TV Repairman:

So maybe the AFC representative doesn't go ahead and win the Super Bowl, and maybe there's no maybe about it, but those folks know how to put on a first-class show just the same.

After what seemed to be days of close-to-the-vest football with teams playing strictly not to lose for hours, clubs from the NFL's small TV markets put on a show reminiscent of the earliest days of the American Football League yesterday.

To those with an imagination, it wasn't John Elway hitting Shannon Sharpe all over the place and James Jett running wild with Jeff Hostetler heaves, but Frank Tripucka hooking up with Lionel Taylor and Art Powell snagging passes from Tom Flores. Where have you gone, Gene Mingo?

But a majority of the AFC clubs have always spurned the conservative for the flamboyant, and it played very well until Super Sundays of recent vintage. Don't change a thing, fellas, we can stand a blowout in late January any time.

In the midst of the pyrotechnics provided in the 21-21 first-half tie staged by the victorious Raiders and the Broncos in the wild-card weekend wrap-up, NBC did the best job of the three networks combining for coverage of the four games.

Sure, John Madden was there with his patented folksy patter during the Giants win over the Vikings yesterday, and the Monday Night Football trio of Al, Frank and Dan were customarily solid handling the Chiefs and Steelers Saturday. But Todd Christiansen and Charlie Jones were just plain fun trying to keep up with the three rings set up in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Thankfully, neither got overly righteous about the pushing, shoving and repeated near-fights in the Raiders-Broncos brawl, both knowing well that all the post-play cheap shots and posturing are as much a part of the former's game plan as the center snap.

It left commentator Christiansen time to gasp, "It's amazing that they [Raiders] are not doing more to cover this man [Sharpe]," who was harvesting Elway's passes two at a time.

As soon as Hostetler would fire his team the length of the field with his passes, Jones would chorus, "Now it's John Elway's turn," while Todd would point out, "It's like these [defensive] secondaries are non-existent, which doesn't make any sense since both know neither team can run the ball."

Jones was also quick to point out that it was a "really involved crowd" enjoying the excitement, an extreme rarity in Los Angeles, where cultivating a tan, showing up late, playing it cool and leaving early are long-held requirements.

Almost the opposite were Madden and Pat Summerall on CBS with their repeated and almost solemn eulogies to the Giants Stadium fans and the laughable tributes to this perhaps being Lawrence Taylor's last appearance on the Meadowlands turf. Great players have been retiring for decades and, besides, isn't this LT's second or third go-around?

Almost rivaling these flights of homage were Michaels, Gifford and Dierdorf, constantly hinting that Joe Montana was appearing with the Kansas City cast under special arrangement with heaven. We all know Joe has been "the greatest" for years, so why constantly restate it, especially when he couldn't hit Refrigerator Perry in the backside with a pass early and mostly threw "aerials" no more than seven or eight yards in length?

ABC's sideline reporter, Lynn Swann, who was only heard from twice during the course of more than three hours, had the line of the day, saying, "I caught passes from him [Montana] this morning, and he had great rotation." Ponder that revelation for about a week.

What continues to make Madden such a hot property (even after a dozen seasons) is that stuck in amid his easy-to-understand explanations is lots of hard and fast truth, delivered as gently as possible.

He left no doubt what he thought of the Giants conservatism early, stating, "It's a good idea to go for the end zone on all three downs" to take advantage of a huge favoring wind. The home team ran it twice, kicked a field goal, and ultimately ended up trailing, 10-3, at halftime.

"In the last three weeks Mark Jackson has killed [the Giants]," Madden pointed out, citing chapter and verse. Most analysts probably wouldn't even remember, much less point it out.

If Saturday's first game was another weekly visit to the snappy repartee indulged in by Al, Frank and Dan, the Packers vs. Lions game to follow featured the voices of Brent Musburger and Dick "Call Me Coach" Vermeil.

If Coach wasn't "constricting" the play for one of the defenses, he was pointing out that so-and-so is "a good, solid, all-around Sunday football player," or every play ended with someone doing a "good job."

Remarkably, neither announcer even hinted who the defender was who allowed Sterling Sharpe of Green Bay to latch onto his third touchdown pass to give his team victory over Detroit. Come on, fellas, even the referee sings out the number of the offending party when he's decreeing a penalty.

As far as the studio shows between the usual Sunday afternoon combatants, the NFL Today and NFL Live, were concerned, it was no contest.

Greg Gumbel and Terry Bradshaw of CBS did their usual shtick, Greg doling out the information and Terry cruising along as the benevolent bumpkin. Miles ahead was Jim Lampley of NBC dragging terrific stuff (and anecdotes, no less) out of Joe Gibbs and Mike Ditka with Will McDonough providing decent tips and making sure that the ex-coaches didn't get a chance to take themselves too seriously.

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