Live from NFL booth, it's comic Dennis Miller

One of the problems with eyewitnesses to crimes, auto accidents, or street-corner fights, is that their eyes often don't see what really happened and their ears don't hear what really was said. Frequently, it's not a deliberate misconstruction of what occurred but just confusion born in the chaos of the moment.

This brings us to the selection of comedian Dennis Miller to be one of three announcers on ABC's Monday Night Football. This didn't really happen, right? Our eyes and ears must have deceived us.

"Hey, Mabel, did they just say somebody named Daffy Millard is going to be on Monday Night Football?"

"I dunno, Hubert. I wasn't paying it no never mind. Who's Danny Millare?"

This all comes under the category of You Can't Make This Junk Up. Woody Paige, the inestimable sports columnist for The Denver Post, was apoplectic: "Why didn't ABC just bring back O.J. Simpson? Howard Cosell must be rolling over in his mausoleum." Even Miller confesses, "I'm a pretty quirky hire."

Agreed. He appears on HBO and in movies and sometimes can be very funny. He also will need to have his mouth washed out with soap before kickoff.

So now we have been shocked and we are getting over Miller's selection. So now we can be logical and reasonable as opposed to scandalized and crazed. So now it's time to be fair. Ergo, this just might make sense.

Larry Stewart, a television critic for the Los Angeles Times, says the choice of Miller "is one of the boldest moves in sports television history." Of course, bold and correct are not necessarily words that travel comfortably in the same sentence. But Stewart makes a valid point.

Monday Night Football, going into its 31st year, has become a giant of an institution. It's part of the culture. Social plans are made around it. From its start, it has been in the groundbreaking business. It seems so natural now, but it began back when football was played on weekends and Monday night was nothing but a nondescript weeknight in another grinding workweek.

Its glory days were 10 years in the 1970s and '80s when the booth primarily was occupied by the patient, professional traffic cop Frank Gifford, who managed to keep a tenuous lid on the mayhem; loosey goosey Don Meredith whose idea of preparation for the broadcast was showing up roughly on time; and the late Howard Cosell, the master of the rip, possessor of the mouth that roared, and a soaring intellect - albeit not quite as soaring as Cosell thought. It was a spectacular time when truth be told, even football fans didn't tune in simply to watch football - as they do all during the fall with nary a thought about announcers - but to see what the guys were up to.

Booth antics often were more important than field antics. It was a spectacular achievement wrought behind the scenes by Roone Arledge, the former longtime boss at ABC Sports. What Arledge envisioned was bringing showbiz to the football biz. It worked amazingly well. MNF became much more than football. Among its many accomplishments: It did as much as any single occurrence to elevate professional football to its No. 1 position among all of sport.

But nothing lasts forever and as faces started changing in the booth, the MNF edge seemed to dull. No matter the participants - Fran Tarkenton, Alex Karras, Joe Namath, Dan Dierdorf, Fred Williamson, Boomer Esiason - the show continued a slow slide into murky mediocrity. A must-watch became a might-watch. Wrestling, for Pete's sake, has been seriously challenging MNF. Last year, Monday nights with Al Michaels and Esiason were notably gloomy.

It was, simply, time for a dramatic leap of faith. ABC made it. Michaels, an accomplished play-by-play man, will remain in charge. He will be joined, among others, by Esiason's successor, Dan Fouts, a superior quarterback and satisfactory analyst. And Miller.

Hey, Mabel. This honestly could work. The single biggest factor in making MNF brilliant was Cosell. He was a lawyer with a suspect sports background. Miller is a comedian with a suspect sports background. What's the difference between a lawyer and a comedian? Case dismissed.

Change is risky and uncomfortable. That's why cowards hide behind the status quo. Grand thinkers never view high mountains and wide rivers as obstacles but as opportunities. It's first and 10, Dennis Miller. Show us your stuff.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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