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In Defense of Dennis

Well, whaddaya know. The world is still here. Brimstone has yet to fall from the sky, there have been no reports of oceans boiling, and the dollar is still worth more than the ruble.

Of course, it's only been a week since Dennis Miller made his Monday Night Football debut, but as of now things are looking pretty un-Armageddonish. So come on out, all you sports talk radio listeners. You've been holed up in those abandoned Y2K bunkers for weeks now -- it'll be nice to climb out and mouth-breathe some fresh air for a change.

Ever since Miller was introduced as one part of the new MNF crew, football fans the world over have treated the acerbic comedian as either sports broadcasting's Second Coming or Second Horseman. There are those who believe he'll inject a much-needed spark into a booth that has grown as stale as an open pack of Red Vines at a "Rocky and Bullwinkle" matinee.

In the other camp are the ones who think football is a serious business. To them, Miller is nothing more than a cackling Hollywood joke boy whose sole athletic experience is arm-wrestling Tom Arnold for the last batch of porcini mushrooms. As far as they're concerned, he wouldn't know a pro-right 23 BOB counter even if Kevin Gogan crackbacked him.

The latter group are the ones now emerging from their shelters. These are the guys who named their sons Sam, Mike, and Willie to give them a head start on becoming linebackers. The people who care, who actually feel personally insulted, that Big Rick from Sherman Oaks had the temerity to tell Romey the Chargers' O-line has been looking pretty weak.

I am not one of those people. Don't get me wrong -- I'm as big a football fan as there is. I can rattle off the pathetic details of Gino Toretta's NFL career. I know the subtle differences between the Red Gun and the Run-and-Shoot and am happy to explain the intricacies of the 46 defense. During the summer, I will even watch the CFL or, God forbid, Arena Football in order to get my pigskin fix.

Yet I think Dennis Miller is a brilliant addition to the Monday Night lineup. Was Miller's debut perfect? Not even close. He seemed alternately nervous and overwhelmed by his new job, remarking that he felt like he had gotten the job because of some strange "Who Wants to Be a Football Announcer" game show. He tried too hard for some of his jokes, at times forcing them as if was worried that he was on some sort of laugh quota. He misspoke a couple of times, including saying that Drew Bledsoe had been sacked 56 times the previous night. He even cut off Al Michaels once or twice, which is as big a boo-boo as one can make in the presence of Mr. Michaels.

Then again, football announcing is not easy. Speaking from personal experience, talking on-air about a game for three hours is much, much harder than it looks. This isn't like sitting at home, screaming about the play selection between handfuls of Doritos. Considering this was his first shot, Miller did just fine. He didn't talk back to the director or producer when they talked to him on the headset; he didn't swear; and he got along fine with his boothmates. Miller actually did an excellent job of pitching to Dan Fouts, setting up the analyst with tactics and strategy questions the former quarterback could easily expound on.

At the very least, the man can string together more than four words into a meaningful, pleasant-sounding sentence. After two years of Boomer Esiason, that's saying a lot.

Most importantly, Dennis Miller was funny, which is why he was hired in the first place. Given the truly awful depths to which the action on the field descended, the comedian's lines about Cantonese food and buying BLTs with fur pelts were the only reason most of us Niner fans didn't shoot out our TV screens.

Sure, I have a certain bias here -- I believe Miller is one of the two or three funniest individuals on the face of the planet -- but there was no doubt he showed flashes of the brilliance that has marked his career from Saturday Night Live on to his own HBO talk show. He was tossing out references that have probably never been used in the history of prime-time, let alone sports television. I can still remember a half-dozen of his best lines from the game. The only words I remembered five days after a Boomer Esiason broadcast were "I woogyshish nehrapidil smoody plit." I believe he was trying to explain Miami's passing attack.

For those of you who think the intermingling of sports and comedy is tantamount to heresy, have you not been watching SportsCenter for the past decade? Save for a very few exceptions, the entire ESPN anchor lineup is nothing but wanna-be Dennis Millers: same sarcastic demeanor, same cooler-than-thou delivery, same puns, same obscure references. The only difference is that no one on SportsCenter is funny.

How can one attack Monday Night Football for hiring a brilliant, accomplished comedian when one already spends hours in front of the TV lapping up Browns-Bengals highlights dispensed by some hack jokester who'd be lucky to open for Carrot Top down at the Airport Ramada Chuckle Hut?

One of the other Vidiots recently declared Miller's presence on Monday Night Football a travesty. He did so not because he's a big sports fan but because he doesn't think Miller is all that funny. There's not really any way to argue that: if you don't think he's funny, then there's nothing in the Monday Night Football gig that will change your mind. I can say only one thing to those people: you poor souls. The surgical procedure that excised your sense of humor must have been terribly painful.

For the rest of us, though, Miller's work in the booth can only get better. He'll never be able to explain how it feels to run a two-minute drill to win the Super Bowl (then again, neither could Boomer), but he's the only one in sports broadcasting who could compare Brett Favre to Larry Storch. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just good TV.


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