America groaned Monday night when it became known there wouldn't be the touch of Don Meredith's country humor on the telecast of the Pittsburgh-Houston game.
It touched off gossip that Jeff and Hazel's son once more was tiring of his role in ABC's nighttime football broadcasts.
"Basically, I guess I'm a little lazy," Meredith said yesterday from Hollywood as he explained why he limited by contract his network's 20 games this season. "I still kind of enjoy it; it's a fun game, but it is easier not to do all the games.
"This time of the year is also big in the entertainment industry and I wanted to keep some time open for that. When I signed this contract with ABC it originally called for me to do only 10 games, but with the network's expanded schedule I agreed 14.
"At the time I signed a contract with ABC to do entertainment, but I exercised my option and canceled it last April, after a year. I thought I'd give it a year to see if it was worth the exclusivity. It wasn't. Since then I've been free to entertainment for the other networks, except for football.
"I have done a couple of programs for NBC since and it looks like I'm going to do one for CBS after the football season. My football schedule already has been broken down. I don't know all of it, but I will be in Dallas for the Minnesota game on Thursday and then the Redskins' game in Baltimore on Nov. 6, I know that much."
After viewing a weekend of upsets Meredith said, "I see a great deal of sameness to the football; there is no standout team to situation. There is a meshing-out.
"I don't know if it is equalization taking place. If the idea is to make all the teams competitive, I don't know whether we've got mediocrity or better balance.
"It should be no trouble telling which are the best teams; you know who the playoff teams and I'll pick 10 who are going to make it.
"In the NFC it's going to be Los Angeles and Washington and Dallas and Minnesota, if it can come back, or Green Bay. In the AFC it's going to be Oakland and Denver this week. It will be Pittsburgh or Houston; I think Pittsburgh is better team. New England is a good team, but it will go right down to the 18th of December, when the Patriots play in Miami (on a Monday night)."
The former quarterback still bears the scars of the Cowboys' expansion years' punishment. "There always will be quarterback injuries. There is no specific remedy, unless they change how one can hit the quarterback. It would make for a lot of judgment calls and the official already has got a lot of judgement calls to make.
"The toughest problem is spearing (using the helmet as a weapon). If spearing is severe there should be a heavy penalty. If the same guy does it again he should be thrown out of the game."
He still feels his old aches. "I can tell you if it is going to rain. My nose, my shoulders, my knees. I had ankle surgery three years ago. I couldn't even walk right. My ankle was growing inward, turning in. I'd be walking and I'd fall off to one side. My toes were curling up on my foot from an old ankle injury. I had a kind of a club foot when I was borned."
Though he is attuned to show biz, Meredith was candid in an opinion about the focus on the scanty costumes of some cheerleaders: they are not his cup of tea.
"The cheerleaders generally are not interested in the pro team," he said. "So why are they out there? They're just the trapping on the cake. You'll find it usually says something about the quality of the team on the field."