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The Inside Track | Mike Penner / SOUND AND VISION

Time to Hit Mute When Football Calls an Audible

September 10, 2003|Mike Penner

Things you thought you'd never see or hear during the opening week of an NFL season ... or, "It's a Good Thing George Halas Checked Out When He Did:"

* "Coming up, have we got a treat for you! Hollywood superstar Kiefer Sutherland! The award-winning actor and director will talk about '24' and help us break down the Cowboys and Falcons."

* "Today, on 'Countdown,' Jeremy Shockey speaks out for the first time since the media firestorm. Does he really have a problem with alternative lifestyles?"

* "Much more on [the Rams-Giants] game later. Mort's coming up. Plus, Rush Limbaugh's coming up."

* "You guys were talking about how sweaty John Wade is. He told me yesterday that he might even consider changing his pants at halftime. He, however, didn't think that would help, because he just sweats so much. I know it sounds gross, I know it sounds disgusting. But we want to keep an eye on this situation."

* "Let me say this, Steve: Jeremy Shockey may be outsmarting us all."

* "Monday Night Football's Lisa Guerrero -- The Exclusive Photos!"

Back in the 1960s, when Halas was still coaching the Chicago Bears, Marshall McLuhan made his famous observation, "The medium is the message."

(Somewhat less famous is this observation McLuhan kept to himself: "Halas would never trust his entire offensive operation to someone like Kordell Stewart." As a thinker, McLuhan was always ahead of his time. But back to the original point....)

For better, but mostly worse, McLuhan was right. The medium is the message. And the message being delivered in September 2003 is this: The NFL's favorite medium has played too many downs without a helmet.

For decades, football television was served well by a simple formula: Professionally trained broadcasters called the action, former players and coaches provided the analysis. It was a winning lineup. Around it, the NFL built a rabid fan base that enabled the sport to overtake and eventually overwhelm baseball, becoming the new national pastime.

So what were the three most-hyped football television personnel moves of the off-season?

ESPN hired a conservative talk-radio host to join its pregame analysis team.

ABC hired a former Los Angeles Ram cheerleader as its "Monday Night Football" sideline reporter.

Fox hired a comedian to do celebrity impressions and make football predictions on its pregame show.

Yes, Fox celebrated its 10th anniversary inside the coveted NFL kingdom by welcoming baby-faced comic Frank Caliendo to join the grizzled mugs hunkered down for another long, grueling season. Caliendo's credentials for such an assignment? He was a featured performer on "Mad TV."

Hard-cores will say Caliendo isn't qualified to make that kind of leap.

Realists will say he's the perfect man for the job. From "Mad TV" to TV gone mad, Caliendo on Fox's pregame show makes total sense.

Caliendo debuted Sunday with impersonations of John Madden, Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, William Shatner, Robert DeNiro and Kiefer Sutherland. Oh, wait. That was the real Kiefer Sutherland. Fox brought him on the set to plug his Fox television series, "24," and to hold a football while Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long shouted at each other ... and to run with a football while Bradshaw and Long shouted at each other ... and to laugh politely while Bradshaw and Long shouted at each other ... and to ... and to plug his Fox television series, "24."

On ESPN, Rush Limbaugh's much-ballyhooed introduction to the Sunday "Countdown" team was undermined by his sneak-preview appearance before Thursday's Jets-Redskins gala league opener, where Limbaugh was revealed to be an unabashed pro football homer. Great. Just what football fans need -- a smirking, self-absorbed political pundit brought on board to shill for the NFL.

Didn't Dennis Miller already run that ship into the rocks?

Sunday, a bad situation seemed ready to turn grave when the "Countdown" bottom crawl warned that Limbaugh would be up soon to discuss the NFL's minority hiring policy.

Heaven help us all.

For those who promptly double-covered the mute button and missed it, this is what Limbaugh had to say about the NFL rule that requires teams with a head-coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate:

"With this rule, the NFL's made it official that hiring more black head coaches is imperative. It is important, folks, because 71% of the players are black in the NFL, but only three of 32 head coaches are black. But this rule, remember, says nothing about hiring anybody. I'm going to tell you -- this could be a setback for minority hiring. This is the opposite of what everybody wants."

Really. Limbaugh actually said that. He also chided Michael Irvin for ridiculously claiming Giant brickhead Shockey might be "outsmarting" everyone by running his mouth to become a "crossover" pop-culture personality.

And Limbaugh got all over Tom Jackson for suggesting Bill Parcells' presence in Dallas would be worth five extra victories for the Cowboys in 2003.

How about that? Rush Limbaugh, a voice of reason on "NFL Countdown."

Then again, remember: We're grading on a curve. Speaking of curves, Lisa Guerrero was here, there and everywhere during NFL Week 1:

* On the sideline at FedEx Field, asking Redskin quarterback Patrick Ramsey about his "ex-teammate," current Redskin receiver Laveranues Coles.

* On the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field, promising to keep us updated on the developing story of Tampa Bay Buccaneer center John Wade's developing sweat stains.

* On the inside pages of FHM magazine, modeling gauzy laced all-black ensembles that were apparently among the new uniform designs the Cincinnati Bengals rejected.

Are you ready for some football?

Come back, X Games, all is forgiven.

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