On Football AND THE STATE OF THE UNION

Dennis Miller covers 'Monday Night Football,' Miles Davis, Mr. Miyagi, Thomas Jefferson and more.

January 13, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Opinionated, respected and quick, Dennis Miller was picked in 2000 to resurrect the blend of irreverence and insight last heard on ABC's Monday Night Football from Howard Cosell.

Many sports purists disagreed with the choice of the acerbic comic. On talk radio and in sports columns across the country, Miller received a rocky welcome. Ratings for MNF ebbed, and this year they dropped to all-time lows.

But Miller, 48, who admitted he had attended only one professional football game before taking the job, calls his time in the booth with announcer Al Michaels and commentator Dan Fouts, a Hall of Fame quarterback, a success.

Miller spoke with The Sun during Monday Night Football's visit to Baltimore this past week.

Clad casually in a cap and unlettered sweatshirt at his Inner Harbor hotel, Miller evinced little interest in the mystique of Monday Night or the role of Cosell on the program. He was a bit testy as the interview started, asking that notes not be taken because, he said, it was throwing off the rhythm of the conversation. (A tape recorder was also running.)

Miller said he has continued the pace of his obscure references on the air, despite the "slings and arrows" of critics1 (see footnotes at end). He also said he expects to return to the program next year, the final one in his contract with ABC. (A network spokesman says there are no changes planned in the lineup.) But, perhaps not surprisingly for a comic whose material usually zaps the political Zeitgeist, he became most enlivened during discourses on the subjects of war and leadership.

One final note: Miller's remarks were liberally flavored with obscenities. They have been edited out of the excerpts that follow:

On the observation by "Monday Night Football" producer Fred Gaudelli that Miller makes fewer esoteric remarks on the air:

I don't think there are any less arcane references, OK? I think Fred has just gotten more comfortable with it. What I have done, and maybe Fred has noticed, is that I've taken a banzai approach. You're putting yourself in harm's way by going for too many things. I have the essential bush I want, and I prune it back a little. I always think of Mr. Miyagi.2 Just shut up once in a while.

I split the difference between iambic pentameter and free verse -- I understand where Dan lies in the delineation. Al is the baseline, and we're the riffs; last year it was more like Bitches Brew by Miles Davis3; this year I've got a little more syncopation going on.

On the comments by comedian Bill Maher, for which he has since apologized, that U.S. policy of bombing from high altitude is more cowardly than the acts of the al-Qaida hijackers:

Any time you start wading in, a week or two after the most horrific terror event in the history of this country, and have a different take on it other than patriotism and that those people are morons, you have a right to do it, but you have to appreciate the circumstances [in which] you're operating, what fragile ground. People were still in low-level shock.

Bad people killed good people for no reason. If you want to parse and get pithy on that -- you're talking about primal forces of nature.

On the presidency:

I'm invigorated by George Bush right now. I never thought I'd say that, and I didn't think he'd do a bad job as president.

I never thought the job of president is as hard as people say it is. I think it's demanding hours-wise, but I never look at these guys and think, "Oh, I could never do that." The only reason Madonna is Madonna is that she was the only person willing to be Madonna.

I don't want to be president -- I don't know what you're thinking, but go ahead. It's almost like the brash assertion that you can be the president that gets you the presidency.

On common sense:

When you find an American kid with a gun fighting with [the Taliban], he's in deep [trouble]. I don't want to hear the back story. There are times in our culture when he would have been in the gallows already.

I don't want to hear he was ostracized in the 10th grade by the chess club.

We've somehow convinced ourselves that good common sense is a baser desire in human beings.

On the Constitution:

I think the Constitution is almost Nostradamus-like in its prescience.4 As an overview, you say, how did they hatch this? How were they this bright?

But to think that we are still going to go word for word, for the rest of our existence, on a piece of parchment that is more than 220 years old. ... You know, I know this is supposed to be the ultimate font of wisdom, but weren't a lot of these signatures [from] guys who owned slaves?

I know we look at them now like these brainiacs, like David McCallum in the Outer Limits5 where their heads have swelled up like this and they know everything.

But if Thomas Jefferson were alive today and you put him on the Concorde and say: "I'll fly you over to see that chick in Paris ... and you're going to get to Paris in three and a half hours, on a thing that goes through the air, with drinks and everything ... "

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