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

He's the brainiest guy on HBO, at least during nights Larry Merchant isn't on. He can throw together an existential post-war theater reference on the fly, find football analogies in the House of Plantagenet, and name-check Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. And yet Dennis Miller, super-genius, goes down to Mexico City to cover the final pre-season MNF game and, yes, drinks the water.

His ensuing gastrointestinal hardship meant that during this week's broadcast, Mr. Miller, on whose performance the ADM relies like a remora on a bull shark, kept a tight clench on the references that are our bread and butter (if remoras were partial to bread and butter). Which is why we can only offer you, dear reader, a handful of annotations this week, and more importantly, why, in a moment of desperation and weakness, we included one on Justin Timberlake. May God have mercy on our souls. Proceed ...

First quarter
The set-up: Al Michael's ever-rising Mexico City altitude statistic ...

The quip: "I was at the Hillary Step there for a second."

The read: The final, treacherously steep ascent before climbers reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary's climb to the peak of Mount Everest has led to many copycats.
The 40-foot, almost-vertical rock is named for Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand beekeeper, who, in 1953, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first to reach the peak of the 29,000-foot mountain. His statement to fellow climber George Lowe upon returning to camp was "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off." Lowe paled for a moment before he realized Hillary meant the mountain and not Tenzing.

Today the Hillary Step is traversed with the help of fixed ropes, and on busy days a bottleneck forms as climbers lumber toward the summit. Since 1953, more than 1,000 people have made it to the top, while more than 150 have died trying. (The mountain is littered with oxygen bottles and corpse-sicles.) The official height of Everest has recently been downgraded from 29,035 feet to 29,022, its peak having been tamped down by an unending parade of rich, middle-aged yuppies who'd read Into Thin Air and didn't get the point.

Second quarter
The set-up: Al's discussion of the various points of interest in Mexico City ...

The quip: "You're like Viva Zapata! -- you know everything."

The read: The Mexican revolutionary who led a guerilla war against the Mexican government from 1911 to 1917 and was portrayed by Marlon Brando in a 1952 film.

Marlon Brando
A younger and slimmer Marlon Brando played Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.
A peasant who sought to bring about agrarian reform, Emiliano Zapata fought in the Mexican Revolution alongside Pancho Villa, first against the dictator Porfirio Diaz and later against Diaz's successors. With his rallying cry "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!" Zapata became an international symbol of the oppressed. He was eventually ambushed and killed by government forces in 1919.

Thirty-three years later, director Elia Kazan, eager to restore his leftist reputation after naming names for HUAC, worked with screenwriter John Steinbeck to bring Zapata's story to the screen. The result, Viva Zapata!, remains an important archival record of a time when Hollywood films could champion Socialist causes and Marlon Brando could jump on a horse without flattening it.


The set-up: Al once again narrating a visual tour of the city, including a statue of a young man at the Castillo de Chapultepec ...

The quip: "That statue's of Justin Timberlake."

The read: The 20-year-old co-frontman of the best-selling boy band 'N Sync.

While the five members of 'N Sync are, on paper, supposedly equal in their Mega-Hottie power to make teenage girls screech at pitches audible only to German shepherds, it's generally agreed that Timberlake, the youngest, outshines his band-mates in Super-Kewl Awesomeness. It should also be noted that Timberlake has attained that most holy zenith every American male between the ages of 11 and 58 has at one time or another, in the long dark night of the soul, aspired to: He Dates Britney.

Third quarter
The set-up: The Cowboys' rookie quarterback, Quincy Carter, slipping out of bounds to avoid the Oakland line ...

The quip: "Discretion is the better part of valor."

The read: Falstaff's line near the end of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1: "The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life." It's Falstaff's comic justification of his cowardice, after having played dead during the Battle of Shrewsbury in order to save his skin.

Shakespeare drew John Falstaff from two real-life figures: Sir John Fastolf, a soldier of the Hundred's Year War and a reputed coward; and more directly from Sir John Oldcastle, a late-medieval British soldier and martyr. In fact, the character was called "Oldcastle" in an early version of Henry IV, but the name was changed to avoid trouble with the real man's descendents.

In 1903, the William J. Lemp Brewing Company of St. Louis chose to name their beer after Shakespeare's rogue, thinking the fat drunk to be the perfect spokesman. When they realized Falstaff was a fictional character and could not do beer commercials, they got the next best thing: Chicago announcer Harry Caray, who bellowed "Holy Cow! Have another Falstaff, folks!" to startled White Sox fans during the '70s.

Fourth quarter
The Annotated Dan Fouts and Al Michaels

In the fourth quarter our stricken color commentator sallied bravely on. However, in a display of the sort of brothers-in-arms camaraderie usually seen only in the most desperate of battlefields, co-commentators Al Michaels and Dan Fouts carried on Miller's referencing duties.

The set-up: The fact that the Raiders would make their preseason cuts on the plane during the post-game flight back to Oakland ...

The quip: (Dan Fouts) "Wonder if they got that D.B. Cooper door?"

The read: The mysterious man who, on Thanksgiving eve, November 24, 1971, boarded a 727 flight out of Portland, Ore., and upon takeoff, identified himself as "Dan Cooper" and said he had a bomb (the "D.B." was a later mis-transcription by law officials). The hijacker demanded and received upon landing in Seattle the Dr. Evil-like sum of $200,000 and then, after releasing the passengers, instructed the pilots to fly him to Mexico. But soon after the plane was airborne, Cooper opened the rear door and disappeared into the freezing rain. He'd jumped with the money and two parachutes, wearing only loafers and a business suit.

It was at this point, the FBI later concluded, that Mr. Cooper's cunning plan probably went awry. A massive manhunt of the Pacific Northwest found no sign of Cooper, and when $6,000 washed up on the banks of the Columbia River nine years later, it was assumed that the engine turbulence and freezing cold (-7 degrees with the wind chill) either killed "D.B." Cooper as he plunged into the forest or left him, upon landing, battered, exposed and at the mercy of the elements. Which should be a very obvious lesson to young, would-be hijackers: Jump out over someplace warm, like Disneyland or Cabo San Lucas; and never, ever, under any circumstances, wear loafers with a business suit.


The set-up: Melissa Stark's sideline report on how some of the rookie players spent their bonus bundles.

The quip: (Al Michaels)"Melissa Stark in the role of Maria Bartiromo, tonight in Mexico City."

The read: The CNBC anchor, who over the past four years has become the Internet pin-up girl of choice for financial news junkies.

Bartiromo initially grabbed attention on CNBC as the first reporter to regularly broadcast live during trading hours from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. In some circles, we gather, this is right up there with being the first to walk on the moon and is the sort of thing for which you get a school named after you. It wasn't long before Bartiromo's sharp suits and stern "If you don't start structuring your 401k plan better you're going to get a spanking" manner earned her monikers like "the Money Honey" and "the Econo Babe."

Despite such sexist trivializing, we assume that Bartiromo is a highly competent and intelligent reporter. But we're not really in any position to judge. Our idea of financial management is to put quarters in one jar for laundry and all other coins in different one for beer. And we don't watch CNBC because, as far as we can tell, they rarely show Roadrunner cartoons, Patrick Swayze movies, or shark documentaries.

Locke Peterseim is a senior editor at Britannica.com.

Research assistant: Dave Ihlenfeld


 
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