Monday, December 26, 2005

"I won't get paid if I say the F-word, and I want to get paid," Miller says. "But here's a little code breaker for you. When you hear me say, 'Golly,' I really mean [bleep]."

Tonight marks the end of Monday Night Football's 26-year run on ABC. For 555 shows, NFL fans have alternately been thrilled (Dec. 22, 2003 -- Brett Favre's stunning performance the day after the death of his father), horrified (Nov. 18, 1985 -- Joe Thiesmann breaks a leg for the audience) or confused (pick any game with Eric Dickerson working the sidelines).

ABC always had an eye for the bizarre in choosing its announcers, from the sublime Howard Cosell to the ridiculous Lisa Guerrero. But no television casting in history has ever caused more consternation than the selection of comedian Dennis Miller to join Al Michaels and Dan Fouts in the booth for the 2000-2001 season.

Miller turned out to be the aural equivalent of anchovies -- 10% of us swore by him, while the remaining 90% found him so unpalatable they nearly retched. The experiment lasted only two seasons, and some fans still haven't forgiven ABC for it.

But why? Why was ABC pilloried for taking a chance on someone who actually had a grasp of the English language and real wit, someone who attended college to actually read books instead of knock heads?

It wasn't as if Miller had no concept of the game. He was (and is) a knowledgable sports fan, and his commentary often proved to be at least as insightful as that of the improbably upbeat Fouts. This was a good booth, even with three mouths gasping for airtime.

Yes, Miller had a tendency to overreach, stretching for a simile the same way Dwight Clark stretched for "The Catch." When he missed, there was a painful silence in the booth and in the living room, but damn it, at least the man was making the effort!

I had no problem having to grab a dictionary or do the occasional Google search to get one of Miller's references. It certainly beats having John Madden explain at length how a player crossing the goalline with the ball means a touchdown, or how moving one's legs more quickly means running faster.

I know Miller's tenure, at least in terms of the ratings, was a spectacular failure. I also know the "average" football fan was turned off by the polysyllabic words and mention of topics that didn't involve the 3-4 defense, frozen tundra or a cheerleader's breasts.

But there were some terrific Miller moments, including:

* "Shanahan's tendencies are harder to read than Angelina Jolie's." -- discussing Denver head coach Mike Shanahan's odd playcalling.

* "I want to thank Jesse Ventura for making me look like Ray Scott." -- on Jesse Ventura's less-than-stellar broadcast work with the XFL.

* "That's the party boat, the S.S. Max McGee." -- after a shot of a party boat headed up Green Bay's Fox River.

* "That hit was later than Godot." -- on a particularly tardy personal foul.

So although I'm sure no one but me will say it, here it is -- thanks, ABC. Thanks for giving me two years of laughter and thought to go alongside Al Michaels' play-by-play and Dan Fout's upbeat chatter, and thanks for not thinking all football fans are morons.

To read a few of Dennis Miller's greatest moments, visit the MNF Archive.

I went to the store yesterday to buy some camouflage pants ... but I couldn't find any.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Fans of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, pulled out the tomahawk chop, yelled war whoops and insulted Moncton Wildcats head coach Ted Nolan during a QMJHL game on Sunday. Nolan, an Ojibwa and former head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, was upset and angry after the game, but received plenty of support from the public. He also received an apology from the Sagueneens on Tuesday.

I'm not exactly sure in what century our friends in Chicoutimi are living, but this is a complete and utter disgrace. Nolan, who spends much of his time working with aboriginal kids teaching them how to handle racial tensions, did an amazing job of controlling himself.

This wasn't just a case of a few unruly and/or drunken fans stepping over the line. The video of the incident shows hundreds of Sagueneens faithful doing the tomahawk chop along with the public-address system, which was playing the same stupid music with which Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves have continued to embarrass themselves.

It wasn't the only incident at the game. Police were called to break up harassment of the Wildcats on the way to the team bus, and a Moncton player's father was alledgedly kicked and beaten after he confronted Chicoutimi fans who threw a garbage can at his son.

So there must be a strong reprimand coming from the QMJHL's office, right? Oh, there is -- read these crushing words from league commissioner Gilles Courteau:

"I find the events which occurred last Friday in Chicoutimi regrettable. The distasteful and disgraceful gestures and comments aimed at Head Coach Ted Nolan by an isolated group of spectators in no way represent the image of the Saguenéens organization, their players or the fans that attend QMJHL games."

Regrettable? Belching at the dinner table is regrettable. Having a large part of a crowd chant racist taunts at one of your coaches while being egged on by the staff of the opposing team is reprehensible.

And not representative of the image of the organization? Gilles, one of your teams is being pilloried right now, and there's plenty of nifty video showing your fans acting like complete idiots. That's the image people have in their minds right now.

The QMJHL press release also says it is taking the matter seriously, and that "the Saguenéens organization is already looking over any improvements it can make to solidify its security procedures." That might work in keeping drunken morons from attacking fans and players on the way to the bus, but it falls woefully short in terms of sanctions for the Saguenéens.

Here are my suggestions:

* Immediate dismissal of the person responsible for playing the music at the game. The crowd certainly wouldn't have been as enthusiastic without the help of the PA system.
* The next time Moncton travels to Chicoutimi, the game should be played in front of an empty arena. No ticket sales, no concession sales and no refunds -- those wanting their money back should have done a better job of telling their neighboring morons to shut up.
* A review of the video of the incident by Chicoutimi and the QMJHL to identify as many offenders as possible. Those people should be banned from the arena for one full season and also given a choice -- face charges for hate crimes levelled by the league or spend one week during the next calendar year working with underprivileged aboriginal youth.

It might seem harsh, but put it in perspective -- these measures are no harsher than what Nolan had to face on Sunday, and they certainly aren't as extreme as the scorn and ridicule the QMJHL head office should receive if it doesn't deal with this incident properly and justly.