The Annotated Dennis Miller: Broncos vs. Packers
By Locke Peterseim, Britannica.com
Special to ABC Sports Online

Pregame
The set-up: The retirement of Denver offensive lineman Mark Schlereth after nearly 30 surgeries, most of them on his knees.

The quip: "Twenty-eight operations. Trust me, Captain Ahab had a better right knee than this guy."

The read: To the peg-legged whaleboat captain in Herman Melville's classic 1851 novel Moby Dick.

Mark Schlereth
Mark Schlereth was recognized for his knee surgeries as much as his blocking.
The plot of Moby Dick was inspired by the real-life tragedy of the Essex, a whaleship that, in 1820, had the misfortune to be rammed not once but twice by an enraged bull sperm whale. The Essex sunk and the surviving crew resorted to cannibalism and drinking their own urine to stay alive.

Melville tells how Ahab leads the crew of his ship, the Pequod, on a dark chase across the seas to wreak his vengeance on the fierce white-humped sperm whale that took his leg (now replaced with a peg-leg carved from the jawbone of a presumably less-fierce sperm whale).

In the end, Ahab, his ship and all but one of his crew are destroyed by the demonic white whale. As the captain is dragged to his watery death on the back of Moby Dick he thrusts his harpoon into the beast, shouting, "To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."

Melville based Ahab in part on Valentine Pease, captain of the whaler Acushnet, on which young Melville sailed in 1841. However, the name Ahab recalls the biblical king of Israel who was married to the infamous Jezebel and at her urging worshipped the false idol Ba'al. Unfortunately there are no "Jezebels" on the Pequod -- if there were, more undergrads might actually read Moby Dick instead of waiting until the night before mid-terms to rent John Huston's 1956 film version, which stars Gregory Peck as Ahab and a large rubber sink mat as Moby Dick.


The set-up: Former Denver offensive line coach Alex Gibbs' policy of not allowing his players to talk to the press.

The quip: "Will that continue now that he's gone? Methinks it might. I was studying the depth chart tonight and I see the starting left tackle for the Denver Broncos is none other than California representative Gary Condit."

The read: To the one-time motion picture extra who appeared as the "Pizzeria Patron" in Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, the 1988 epic sequel to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Gary Condit
"The Case of the Missing Intern" isn't the only blemish on Gary Condit's resume.
The harsh glare of fame brought on by Condit's pizzeria-patronizing breakout role no doubt hardened him to the media, fueling his Garbo-like silence during the current Chandra Levy search. The film was also a cinematic career high for such other would-be actors as 1980 Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Steve Lundquist (as "Igor") and stand-up comic and future divorced "Multi-Millionaire" Rick Rockwell. Of all the performers in the sequel, only "Facts of Life" supporting player George Clooney went on to any sort of acting success, later appearing in the made-for-television movie Without Warning: Terror in the Towers, and The Harvest (as the "Lip-Syncing Transvestite").

First Quarter
The set-up: A bald fan in the stands.

The quip: I'm figuring that head's running a 13 on the Stimpmeter.

The read: To the device used to measure the speed of golf greens.

Edward Stimpson's 1936 invention uses a small ramp to roll a golf ball across the green in question, and the distance the ball travels determines the speed of the green. The Stimpmeter was not intended for use in comparing the difficulty of various courses -- rather, it was supposed to help each course's greenskeeper maintain a consistent green speed from hole to hole. However, Stimpmeter ratings have become a measure of bragging rights between course greens committees as they set out to show whose greens are fastest. A difficult professional green for a tournament like the U.S. Open usually ranges between a 12 and a 14. A medium green would fall in the 8 to 9 range, with a soft, or slow, green coming in under 6.

And we can tell you from personal experience on some of America's finer interstates that a golf ball putted out of the back of a '79 El Camino traveling at 85 mph has an average Stimpmeter rating of 964.


The set-up: Lombardi Middle School in Green Bay, Wisc.

The quip: "Grade to daylight, baby. All the chalkboards have the power sweep drawn on them."

The read: To the canonized Packers coach's advice for running backs (and the title of his 1963 inspirational memoir), "Run to daylight," meaning simply to look for a hole, any hole, and exploit it.

And to Lombardi's signature offensive play, feared and admired by foes for its effectiveness.

The juxtaposition of Vince Lombardi and grade school is not as comically absurd as one might assume. Despite his reputation as the great macho martinet of the gridiron, Lombardi was first a teacher, instructing students for almost a decade in Latin, algebra, physics and chemistry (and coaching football, basketball, and baseball) at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, N.J.

Get Tony Danza's agent on the phone -- this has wacky sitcom written all over it.

Second Quarter
The set-up: The loyalty and longevity of Green Bay Packers fans, which guarantees decade-long waits to get on the season ticket list.

The quip: "They have less turnover in this fan base than the Supreme Court."

The read: To the fact that the average term of a United States Supreme Court justice is about 15 years, with the longest being that of Chief Justice John Marshall, who led the highly influential court of the early 1800s and served 34 years, a record which Clarence Thomas, who is still only 53, may break.

In order to protect the integrity of the country's final court of appeal and the interpreter of its Constitution, the founding fathers gave Supreme Court justices life tenure, allowing them to make fair decisions without fear of political fallout. However, to this day, there are no rules requiring that justices wear pants under their robes or that Packers fans wear shirts.


The set-up: Dan Fouts' description of the pain Denver defensive tackle Chester McGlockton was probably feeling after twisting his knee.

The quip: "We, of course, got that information from the team trainer, the Marquis de Sade."

The read: To the 18th century French nobleman and author whose quest for sexual fulfillment through physical excess and cruelty gave birth to the word "sadist."

Born in 1740 into nobility, Donatien Alphonse Francois, Comte de Sade, was treated to the usual trappings of aristocracy: classical schooling, a brief military career, marriage into a high-ranking family, and all the mistresses and prostitutes he desired. Unfortunately, de Sade's carnal tastes and practices ran to the extreme, and by 1763 his habitual abuse of his prostitutes ran him afoul of the king's law. Following several stints in prison, in 1772 de Sade found himself facing the death sentence after an attempt to administer Spanish fly to several working girls. He went on the run, was captured, escaped, and fled to Italy where he kept the party going. Imprisoned again on his return to Paris in 1777, in the hoosegow, de Sade began his professional writing career with such works as One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom (which out-depraved the nearest competitor by least 46 days).

With the coming of the French Revolution, de Sade was transferred to an asylum and finally released in 1790. During the Reign of Terror he served as a state official and wrote his most famous work, Justine. But under Napoleon's rule de Sade was arrested again in 1801 and lived out the rest of his life in prison, dying in 1814.

"Sadism" first showed up in a dictionary in 1834, but the Marquis de Sade's writings remained banned in France until the 1960s and in Britain until 1983. However, thanks to his pioneering work in plumbing the depths of sexual and artistic freakiness, we can rest assured that there will be episodes of HBO's "Real Sex" to air well into the next century.

Third Quarter
The set-up: Glenn Rountree, a Packer offensive guard.

Richard Roundtree
Richard Roundtree was a bad mother (Shut your mouth!) as agent John Shaft.
The quip: (singing) "Who's the cat who won't cop out?"

The read: To actor Richard Roundtree, blaxploitation superstar of 1971's Shaft, and its sequels Shaft's Big Score, Shaft in Africa, and Shaft the Executioner.

In most circles, it's commonly agreed that John Shaft was in fact a black private dick who was a sex machine to all the chicks, and yet it seems he was also a complicated man, understood by no one but his woman. Richard Roundtree, on the other hand, will be appearing in the upcoming film Corky Romano. Can you dig it?


The set-up: Vice-president Dick Cheney.

The quip: "Cheney's like 'Sanford and Son' with the heart attacks -- he doesn't care, he's just walking through them."

The read: To the classic sitcom's main character Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx), who feigned multiple massive coronaries.

About once a week during the mid-'70s the curmudgeonly junkman would clutch his chest with one hand, raise the other to the heavens, and cry out to his deceased spouse, "It's the Big One! I'm comin', Elizabeth, I'm comin'!"

Redd Foxx was born John Elroy Sanford, but by his teens he was performing on the black nightclub circuit under his stage name. (He's referred to as "Chicago Red, the funniest dishwasher on this Earth" in The Autobiography of Malcolm X.) In the '50s and '60s, prior to the mainstream success of "Sanford and Son," Foxx recorded over 50 "blue" albums on which he shared his ribald tales of sexual misadventure. He was the first performer to swear on a major label record.

Foxx was lured away from NBC and "Sanford and Son" by ABC in 1977 to do "The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour," but the show tanked and his career slowed to a crawl. There followed short-lived attempts at new television shows and later a role in Eddie Murphy's 1989 movie Harlem Nights. Murphy, who knew how much of his own success he owed to Foxx's trailblazing, also produced the 1991 television series "The Royal Family," starring Foxx and Della Reese.

On October 11, 1991, Foxx became agitated on the set of "The Royal Family," and fell to the floor clutching his chest. The cast and crew laughed, assuming he was just reliving the good old days. Foxx died on the soundstage of a massive heart attack.

Fourth Quarter
The set-up: The MNF game in Mexico City next week.

The quip: (to Al Michaels) "Never been to Mexico City. Vasco da Gama, brief me a little."

The read: To the Portuguese navigator who, from 1497 to 1524, made a series of voyages from Europe to India by way of the Cape of Good Hope, opening up the East Indies to European sea trade and helping establish Portugal as a world power.

And now, for History They Didn't Mention in Elementary School: On da Gama's second voyage around the Cape he encountered an Arab ship loaded with merchandise as well as women and children. Da Gama grabbed the goods and locked all the passengers on board, then set the ship on fire, killing them all. His attorney later blamed his actions on the fact that the only videos they'd had to watch on the entire voyage were a Marilyn Manson live concert bootleg and some taped episodes of "Jackass."


The set-up: Fouts asking him to identify the song playing in the background.

The quip: "It's, uh, 'MacArthur Park.' ? All of a sudden I'm in Wherehouse with Wolfman Jack."

The read: To the seven-minute long 1968 musical oddity.

A soaring tale of melancholy set in Los Angeles's General Douglas MacArthur Park, the song was written by'60s songwriting sensation Jimmy Webb, who convinced his pal, noted British film and theater boozehound Richard Harris, to sing it.

After starring in the 1967 film version of Camelot, Harris had begun to fancy himself a singer. You must remember, it was the '60s, and this sort of thing usually seemed like a good idea at the time.

"MacArthur Park" went all the way to No. 2 in America and in doing so paved the way not only for the radio to play longer-format singles, but also for such actors as William Shatner and Don Johnson to launch "singing" careers. Webb went on to write several classics songs ending in "-man," such as "Wichita Lineman" and "The Highwayman." "MacArthur Park" would later be recorded by Donna Summer and eventually end up on numerous "Worst Songs of All Time" lists, thanks to lyrics like "Someone left the cake out in the rain / I don't think that I can take it / 'Cause it took so long to bake it / And I'll never have that recipe again" -- which actually make a lot of sense if you think of them in terms of a baker who's having a really bad day.

The deejay known as Wolfman Jack, who was born Bob Smith, created his lycanthropic alter-ego when he began doing rock and roll broadcasts in the early '60s from a little religious Mexican radio station across the border from Del Rio, Texas. Throughout the '60s the mystery of who the Wolfman really was led to his growing popularity. In fact it was George Lucas's 1973 film American Graffiti that revealed to the mainstream public the face behind the growling voice. Wolfman Jack was an instant media star and went on to host NBC's "The Midnight Special" rock show for the next eight and a half years.

In 1978 Donna Summer appeared on "The Midnight Special" and performed "MacArthur Park."

(The actual song that was playing during the MNF broadcast was "Follow Me" from Uncle Kracker's debut album Double Wide.)


The set-up: The nightlife in Green Bay, Wisc.

The quip: "Listen, Green Bay swings. You've got to know the right people, but this place is like Berlin in the late '20s."

The read: To the Weimar Republic era in Germany, which from 1919 to 1933 was the backdrop to an explosion of artistic freedom and sexual decadence, all centered in Berlin.

Art such as von Sternberg's film The Blue Angel, Brecht and Weill's Threepenny Opera, and Christopher Isherwood's book Berlin Stories (which inspired the musical Cabaret) portrayed the era between the end of the Great War and the rise of the Nazi Party as a creative, if hedonistic, cabaret parade of sex, drugs, and theater. Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker brought jazz music and torch songs to Weimar Berlin from America, and homosexuality, prostitution, and transvestitism all flourished under the city's relaxed societal mores.

And with Cabaret's recent Broadway revival bringing the Weimar era back into vogue, it's only a matter of time before George Clooney is hauling out and dusting off his beloved "Lip-Syncing Transvestite" routine to the delight of audiences everywhere.

Locke Peterseim is a senior editor at Britannica.com.

Research assistant: Dave Ihlenfeld


 
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