Let Us Now Praise Broadcast Men (Footballz, 11.5.13)

Posted on November 30, 2013


[A bit of the old ol’ creative fiction for football/humor blog Footballz.org]

“This arduous physical work, to which a consciousness beyond that of the simplest child would be only a useless and painful encumbrance, is undertaken without choice or the thought of chance of choice… nearly nothing is obtainable; nearly all is cruelly stained, in the tensions of physical need, and in the desperate tensions of the need of work which is not available.” – James Agee 

It is upon this broad desk, thick and heavy with the perspiration of those well-combed men who came before them in this enterprise, that our present day broadcasters find themselves leaning each week with a crisp sadness pushed back with their contused elbows, leathered palms, and bejeweled wrists. A fine collection of professional men well past their prime but eager to serve the noble sport in which they all seemed to matter so much so long ago.

There’s Shannon in his steel blue suit cutting a disconnected figure against the wandering two-dimensional images in the background. He’s a shiny man with sculpted wrinkles and eyes set deep in woeful relief. He looks off camera at assistants who hold water for him and whisper in his ear during commercial breaks, “You can make it through this, you really can.” He’s suddenly called on by host James Brown for a bit on the troubles facing beleaguered quarterbacks of the NFC East, which he finds himself suddenly feeling oppressively unqualified to discuss.

He gathers warmth from deep reservoirs of affability, hidden far below battered muscles and clotted batches of tissue and layers of sorrow. “Should have at least been a question for Dan,” he finds himself thinking. Nevertheless, the weary broadcaster pulls himself together and presses his right hand firmly on the desk top as a surgeon would steady a patient before administering a row of sutures, and offers his two cents on the situation. “What we’re seeing here is verifiable DARK AGES for these guys, JB,” he hears himself saying. “Old Eli, Tony, RG, and whoever’s on deck need to pull it together, there’s no way around that.” He looks at the heads to his left and his right for an empty beat. “But I’ll tell you what, if these guys can just focus on getting some yards, playing these games today one series at a time, I don’t think you can really count any of them for long.”

Marino leans over and pats him on the shoulder with that war-bitten and mournful right hand of his and gives him one of those pleading Marino smiles whose thinly veiled dread has increased throughout his time on these dry grounds of rare return. “Boy I wish we had advocates like you back in my day, Shannon, haha,” says Marino. The waves in his hair glisten with product applied with care and humble honesty and pride in his profession, made up in likely bittersweet tribute to a deep classicism and heroic nature of his own past (“Dan the Man,” a nickname bestowed on him in his early days, tortuously reinforced his self-image as the Platonic ideal of manhood itself, a painful reputation to cling to in the middle aged years, so heavy in their accelerated biological deprivation).

And here the balding Bill Cowher steps in, or rather elevates backward in his chair as if the air now exiting his mouth from his first words were propelling him backward like rocket boosters. “You know I’m not sure we can really fairly put this blame on the quarterbacks in this scenario, all of whom are proven to be extremely capable at one time or another.” His eyes dart back and forth to both ends of the table, himself always drawing the center chair in this whole setup and thus leaving him constantly besieged by opinions, aborted interruptions, Aqua Velva, a constant shoulder pad shuffling sound from Shannon’s suits and Dan’s suits and the cold cooked sweat smell that every movement tends to waft in his direction. Sticking that notched chin up into the lights is so often a chore in this situation, and he’s taken lately to simply tucking it down toward his lavalier mic, “bury the goatee” as he tells himself.

Coach Cowher is really in his element when explaining the intricacies of modern-day offensive and defensive schemes like the Read Option, the Tampa-2, and Actual Bootlegging in Real Life.

JB cocks his head as if to signal, “Now we’re getting into the type of interesting point-counterpoint that I always have tried to cultivate on my television programs!” But before he can utter a word, there’s Shannon chiming in with a bit of his old first-person experience that he maintains (among his private committee) is the absolute number one commodity worth protecting in his personal warehouse of nonrenewable resources. Those inner groves of valuable insight and gridiron recollections won’t bear such conversational fruit forever and he sometimes pauses to wonder how Terry and Phil and Collinsworth and Howie are doing with whatever they’ve got left up in their own pulpy minds.

Shannon says, “What Coach is trying to say here – and we all remember those Steelers teams getting by on that mighty defense with who-knows-what kind of replacement you had under center, right, Coach? Haha.”

Cowher puts his hands out, palms up, like that somber personification of the capitalist grind found on the materials in Parker Brothers’ game, Monopoly. “Well, what I mean is -”

“Kordell Stewart some of those years? Tommy Maddux? Coach, coach, haha, wow. I mean we talkin’ about – weren’t there any waterboys left you could have suited up?”

Marino slaps his knee, “Haha! I remember The Water Boy!”

JB laughs, “Haha!”

“All I saying is that I’d like to see some extra effort from those teams that actually feel ready to step up take some responsibility for this season,” says Cowher, his voice breaking down into a grinding motor rasp. “If that happens, I think every one of these teams has opportunities to be competitive this season.”

“The NFC is a defensive mess, no doubt about it,” opines the pale-faced Boomer Esiason, who has floated quietly at the edge of the desk to now. He’s had no part in the green screen Chalk Talk playbook analysis Dan and Bill acted out (outlining the resurgence of Philip Rivers), no off-camera banter during the pre-produced Inside the Huddle Presented by Dominos Pizza, and not even any one-liners during the opening sequence presented by Southwest Airlines. He exists today as the weightless white hair on his head, like a cloud brushing against a mirror.

Ah there’s a few moments of silence as Boomer’s eyes drift toward the back of the studio where a beautifully silent montage of lithe athletic bodies in the most cutting edge of the industry’s protective gear flying across infinite fields of green, grabbing spiraling footballs from the sky, ratcheting their torsos away from pursuing defenders, and a close-up of Peyton Manning’s numbers leaning across the screen as he drops back into the pocket, alertly yet lightly gripping the ball in his strong hands.

“Oookay,” says JB. “And with that, we’ll take a break to find out who hid the script this morning.”

“Haha,” says Shannon.

“Haha,” says Dan.

“Hey now,” says Bill.

The active shot switches to the handheld guy in the wings as he stands in front of an eight-foot unit of trussing to which the producers have mounted three flatscreen televisions, each of which plays highlights from teams in featured games this afternoon. Once upon a time, the job of editing together these highlights into a promo reel may have gone to some ambitious team of video technician hopefuls. Now the job is completed by this lone cameraman simply moving from screen to screen, like the town drunk at the local sports bar wandering around the room directing everyone’s attention with dizzy magical gestures to the various matches on different televisions there. Who is to say what’s become of those lost teams of editors and their young families, now left to sustain without defense the enormous assaults of the universe.

Meanwhile the producers are waving everyone across the set to the wall, reminding them to check the floor for their standing spots. Another assistant to remind them that the subject of this segment will be the year’s biggest surprises – good and bad. All hosts avoid eye contact at the mention of bad surprises of the year, a phrase that directs each of their thoughts not toward the current events of the football league but rather their own personal struggles so far removed from that glorious battlefield to which they once belonged. Marino limps over from his chair, with his own assistant quickly rubbing his lower back as he winces with a psychological pain.

The five men stand with hands clasped behind backs. The lapels of their suits stiffly shift as each shrugs and gestures and rocks back and forth when the camera is once again turned to them. Cowher admits his worst surprise of the year is that of the Houston Texans, given the high expectations of Matt Schaub’s breakout year and continued success from cherished running back Arian Foster. He cites their disappointing record as proof that the team as a whole has indeed been a disappointment, and as he strings out this observation into a series of desperate adjectives and synonyms, Boomer keeps opening his mouth and cocking his hand in preemptive counterpoint motions, over and over as Cowher keeps jutting his lower lip out to present words like “solid football team” and “challenged secondary,” avoiding every one of Boomer’s visual pleas to crack into this one with a nuanced reminder of the always up-for-grabs nature off the Texans’ division. JB cuts off Cowher with a nod to the producers, who are already waving for a break to some on-location footage.

JB shakes his head as the footage is pulled up onscreen and he takes a moment to look up into the studio lights blaring like the summer sun, this parched studio heat so far from the heady days in Harvard, dreaming cosmic dreams of changing the world with that degree in Government, full of fiery ideals and brittle hope supplied by his old roommate, Cornell West, who continues to politely decline JB’s invitations to his own weekly 45-second segment on the show. He takes a deep breath of dejection as he shuffles across the studio. Boomer feels his own cheeks begin to flush, approaching the pink tones of Shannon’s tie. Marino looks to the camera with a twinkle in his eye before realizing the thing isn’t processing anything. The monitors show crowds filing into seats at FedExField on a beautiful fall day in Landover, Maryland.

And now it’s time to sit in the burgundy chairs – but for God’s sake remember to sit in the same order as you do at the desk this week, guys – around the glass coffee table making our picks. Marino’s sitting there crossing his legs so harshly that you can see his calf almost all the way up to his knee. Shannon’s tweaking a pair of flashy Official NFL Shop Men’s Apparel receiver’s gloves that have somehow materialized on his hands.

Cowher keeps picking the Steelers, Shannon’s going for the Patriots this week, Marino looking at the Chargers. Boomer’s sitting over there in silence again hoping Please Jesus don’t even call on me. His picks have been disastrous this season. The Ravens. The Lions. The Titans. The Seahawks. Even the Broncos have failed him so far. As he sinks into this idea, he feels his shoulders and clavicles and sternum shrink down under his collar.

If he can just get out of this – no, there’s JB nodding at him now. He hears himself talk up the virtues of the Browns defense. The Cleveland Browns, in the context of a contest they’ll be engaged in later today against division rivals the Baltimore Ravens. Yes, good defense. Yes, possible make-do savior in Jason Campbell. He calls the Browns. The Browns over the Ravens. The rest of the hosts of The NFL Today nod grimly. The cameras switch to a happy and carefree crowd eating grilled chunks of sizzling meat with small grills placed on the inexhaustible, aching parking lot of Ralph Wilson Stadium, as Greg Gumbell and Dan Dierdorf introduce us to the Home Depot Keys to the Game focusing on the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills.

Crowds of friends have been waiting all week to tailgate this morning in support of their favorite football team!

Back at the studio, Boomer gives Shannon a hug and exchanges knowing smiles and the same tearful glances they’ve all come to let pass between each other with the conclusion of each program. This is the work left for these men. “It has the doubleness that all jobs have by which one stays alive and in which one’s life is made a cheated ruin, and the same sprained and twilight effect on those who must work at it.”

WEEK 10 PICKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ll take Buffalo over Pittsburgh this week, guys, for real.  Do what you want for the rest of these dealies.

Original story published here.

Posted in: Footballz, Sports