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So what if The Fray by the Bay, the Dec. 3 game between the once-defeated New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, turned out to be The Snore by the Shore. For me, the Niners' 7-3 win was two hours and 58 minutes of enlightenment. Curious to learn how much of an NFL telecast is devoted to actual play—those seconds that elapse after the ball is snapped (or kicked off) and before the whistle blows—I perched in front of the tube, stopwatch in hand.
The discoveries piled up quickly. Sitting through the minute-long introduction to Monday Night Football—Hank Williams Jr. braying about all his rowdy friends, a montage of bone-crushing hits and spikes (note to executive producer Geoffrey Mason: More spikes, please; they're why I tune into NFL games, for the spikes!), Bill Cosby, Ronnie Lott, Mark Breland, and Jim Burt proclaiming their readiness for the big tilt, and the obligatory shot of a woman with a four-star caboose sashaying away from the camera—I learned that when it cares to, ABC can make 60 seconds feel like a long, clock-eating drive.
Of the telecast's 178 minutes—a quickie, by NFL standards—the total action time was 12 minutes. (I use the word "action" loosely, seeing as how New York coach Bill Parcells' idea of imaginative play-calling was to have Phil Simms pitch the ball to O.J. Anderson instead of handing it off to him.)
Of the 122 plays from scrimmage:
The 57 rushing attempts took an average of 4.5 seconds.
The 39 incomplete passes (including four sacks) averaged 4.4 seconds.
The 16 punts averaged 9.1 seconds. The brutal first half turned in by Giants punter and former Maria Maples escort Sean Landeta—not much hang time on his kicks—brought the average down.
The four kickoffs averaged 8.5 seconds.
Judging when a ball passes through the goal posts is a subjective business, but it appeared that San Francisco's extra point consumed 2.1 seconds, while the Giants' 20-yard field goal, 2.2. The Niners also took 2.0 seconds off the clock in missing a field goal.