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"I wince with embarrassment when those guys do a funny," he says. " Meredith is like a buffoon, waiting to be cute. Cosell's style is good for a 15-minute show, but not for an action game. Howard is not so much I-tell-it-like-it-is anymore as he's just a guy who sets himself up for Meredith to put him down. I guess people like that part of it. On CBS the game is the star. ABC does some strange things. For NCAA football their big team is their house guys, Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson. In the middle of the third quarter Schenkel starts thanking everybody from the college trustees on down, so I can understand why ABC is under pressure from the NCAA to use him. If you want to know who's a really funny color guy, it's Wilkinson, not Meredith. Wilkinson is funnier than Meredith because there's no way he thinks he is.
"This whole question of jocks on the air is changing," says MacPhail. "A few years ago there was a tidal wave of them, but now they're being hired less rather than more. Jocks don't have any training in commentary or interviewing, they're very reluctant to embarrass a fellow player with a tough question, they're amazingly nervous and if they have any special knowledge about the game it usually doesn't come through. But a guy like our Pat Summerall, for example, he's an ex-jock but he's also a pro announcer. He's a little stuffy, and I wish he'd loosen up, but he's the best in the business. He tells you what's going on without shoving a lot of words down your throat."
Carl Lindemann is a friend of Cosell's on a social level, and their wives are friends. "But Howard doesn't buy my lunch," says Lindemann, "and I have to say I don't believe the general public is fascinated with Howard's discussions of Meredith's vocabulary. Don and Howard are amusing for a while, but they become an intrusion. The public doesn't care about their relationship. And Gifford is struggling to be heard above the chatter.
"The first year NBC did the NCAA football games, we tried using three guys in the booth—Terry Brennan, Bud Wilkinson and Lindsey Nelson. In the very first game Terry and Bud were at each other's throats, and Lindsey had to be a traffic cop. ABC has not added a new dimension. I'm convinced their approach is wrong. Paul Christman had the most distinctive talent of all colormen. The best team now is our Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis. They tell you what's happening without quarreling with each other in the booth."
On Sunday afternoon in Detroit, with the opening show only a day away, Cosell-Gifford-Meredith were watching Baltimore beat the Jets on the TV set in the parlor of Producer-Director Chet Forte's suite. Cosell was loudly proclaiming the deficiencies of the Jets' quarterback, insisting that the slowness of his hand-offs made it easy for the Colts to knock down the running backs.
"I wish Baltimore would play with your butt for a while. You'd find out how easy it is," Gifford said.
Forte broke in to stop a potential quarrel and start a production meeting instead. That night they were to go to Tiger Stadium to pretape Monday's introduction. Forte covered a number of points rapidly, and his three stars were given new yellow ABC blazers they are required to wear on camera. When the meeting ended, Gifford went to his room to study rosters, Cosell went to his suite to watch the rest of the Jets game and Meredith went to play tennis.
"Our problem here is to get Don and Howard to shut up early in the game so Frank can set the teams for the people and establish himself," said Forte. "It's up to Frank not to make mistakes and not to get down on himself. These are three very delicate and emotional people. If I tell Howard to shut up in the wrong way, he's liable to sulk for the whole game."
During one game last year Meredith unplugged the ear piece through which Forte had just been reprimanding him and decided his announcing career was over. Cosell asked him to finish the night's work, and now after one full season on the air Meredith has won an Emmy, has been given an honorary doctorate by Alfred University and thoroughly relishes his position. After he resigned as the Dallas quarterback, Meredith took a run at being a country-singing star, a songwriter and a stockbroker. He has been offered roles in several TV series and no doubt will someday accept one. "I've met a lot of actors, politicians and star athletes in my life, and Don has more charisma than any of them," says Gifford. But for the moment Meredith is enjoying his seat in the TV booth.
"The worst mistake I ever made was thinking I could work for a living," Meredith said as he was getting dressed to go to the stadium for the taping. "What I'm doing now is fun. I don't have much time on the air to say my speech, but my speech is that I love the game of pro football. It's the greatest sports vehicle in the country. But we are going to have to change the emphasis on violence and on winning at any cost. There aren't very many people in the stands who are under 30. Young folks won't buy the old Vince Lombardi stuff any more. Lombardi wouldn't have been as successful today. He tolerated two or three token playboys, but the others he stripped of their personalities. Pro football is a game of individual talents that in a great team somehow become welded together. On the air I like to point out the athletic talents down on the field—like a physical artist like Bob Lilly, showing what he does that's so great—and not just talk about the violence and the score."