As ABC's "Monday Night Football" opened its 16th season this week, I, like countless other Washingtonians, made specific preparations for the expected memorable clash between the Redskins and Cowboys.
I paid a good friend $40 to take my future ex-wife out on a date, freeing the home of any nonfootball-worshiping presence. I bought a case of beer and devised a conveyor- belt system allowing me to access a chilled bottle with the push of a button. I dug out my binoculars, enabling me to make my 12-inch TV screen seem like TheaterVision without the burden of installation costs.
And then the game started. I've seen eye-chart examinations that had more suspense.
The Cowboys won, 44-14, as Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann completed 20 of 35 passes for 269 yards. However, five of the completions were to Dallas defenders for 63 yards and one touchdown.
By 10:45 p.m., I wished I had thought of turning to "Cagney and Lacey." By 11:45, I was counting how many hours of sleep I could get if I went to bed. By 12:45, I was groggily reaching to turn off the set, wondering how I could doze off during a Redskins-Cowboys game.
If you made it past midnight, you probably could hear the faint sounds of Don Meredith singing "Turn Out the Lights" somewhere out in the hinterland.
ABC's new analyst, Joe Namath, also sings, as evidenced by the fact that he's starred in such stage productions as "Guys and Dolls" and "Sugar." He did not sing Monday night, and America is probably a greater nation for it.
After his regular season debut in the broadcasting booth, it was unclear whether the former quarterback will become a smash or a flop. He wasn't Broadway Joe, nor was he Bumbling Joe. He was more like Boring Joe, feeling his way with occasional sharp analysis and occasional cliched comments.
Namath speculated interestingly on bringing the quick kick back to pro football, made a good point on how Redskins safety Tony Peters took advantage of a rule change on pass interference and properly criticized the shoddy punt returning by both teams.
But he also told us early in the game that "they're fighting a war down in the pits" and late in the game that "there's no love lost between the two teams."
On balance, Namath didn't add that much to the telecast but didn't subtract from it in any monumental fashion. And from the viewer's standpoint, that's probably a plus, considering the usual claptrap we can get from TV analysts.
With Namath and O.J. Simpson both "Monday Night Football" infants, veteran Frank Gifford has taken firm control of the booth. Minus the more dominating presence of Howard Cosell or Meredith with which to contend, Gifford becomes The Force, handing off the microphone to his partners as he see fits. Until Namath and Simpson establish some sort of commanding chemistry, Gifford apparently will take the lead role.
Although a competent play-by-play man, Gifford still makes many errors. And in the first half Monday night, he told us it was a "hard-hitting game" so often that I actually began to believe him -- to the point that when friends came over late and asked me what was happening, I told them, "The Cowboys are ahead, 10-7. It looks like a hard-hitting game."
With three Hall of Famers sharing the booth, ABC's new crew certainly has unmatched marquee value. The question remains if the combination will produce riveting dialogue or empty talk.
On an otherwise forgettable day of local television programming in regards to the Redskins game, WDVM-TV-9 had a couple of nice touches on its 6 p.m. newscast. Reporter Mike Buchanan did a light- hearted piece on Redskins fever in the area, and Glenn Brenner offered viewers cash rebates for tuning in to his 11:20 p.m. sportscast.
On WTTG-TV-5's 10 o'clock news, sportscaster Steve Buckhantz interviewed Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard live at halftime at Texas Stadium. With the Redskins trailing by 17-7, Beathard told Buckhantz, "We can beat these guys. They're not a great team."