Says Edwards, "I ask the referee for a timeout, I don't tell him. It's at his discretion whether I should get it or shouldn't get it." But that's really a polite fiction. The machinery is so well oiled that on Monday Night Football, at least, nine times in 10 Edwards will tell Goodrich, "Go ahead, Bobby, you've got it," before he actually notifies the referee that a timeout is being taken.
Of course, the majority of the commercial breaks are made during agreed-upon stoppages in the action, such as after punts and scores, and during injury and team timeouts. The contracts governing college and NFL games allow TV a specified number, of commercial breaks (generally four or five) per quarter, in addition to commercials or station breaks between quarters, at the half, and before and after the game. (College TV timeouts last 90 seconds. NFL breaks have been at least two minutes since 1986, when the league adopted the philosophy that fewer but longer breaks are more tolerable.)
The crunch comes when, as occasionally happens, TV falls behind in its allotted timeouts. "We have never stopped the flow of a game—never," asserts Edwards. "If there's a punt and one team gets it within the other side's 40-yard line, we won't take it." He will, however, call for a timeout after an interception or fumble "if I'm three or four calls behind." But he'll only do it if the offensive team doesn't have the ball in enemy territory.
For a man who has personally unleashed, by conservative estimate, more than 12,000 minutes of mind-numbing commercials, Edwards is not that bad a sort. "You've really got to be a surly s.o.b. not to like Billy E.," says broadcaster Keith Jackson. Edwards lives alone in Houston, plays golf in the off-season and hits the road to work the sidelines from July to January. He's considerate of the officials—before the Phoenix game he brought each of them an ABC hat. And after years of lonely weekends together on the road, Goodrich—whose own dad, Robert, a former Methodist bishop, died in 1985—considers Edwards a second father. "Irascible but genuine," he says.
An adman from Madison Avenue couldn't have said it any truer.