|Old Schoolers can still bring it|
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2
It's the holiday season around The Cooler, and you know what that means: Benders worthy of Hunter S. Thompson at the office Christmas party, jam-packed shopping excursions to fortify the misanthrope inside each one of us ... and December sports on our ever-loving tube.
I was overwhelmed with a sense of holiday sentiment this weekend, dwellers, when the Christmas ads began pouring across my TV during a four-day Thanksgiving sportsfest that redefined the word "binge." Which was more egregious: My belt-loosening, sweat-inducing fourth helping of potatoes and gravy ... or watching Michigan State hoops from freaking Alaska on Thanksgiving night?
(I should, of course, tread lightly when it comes to the Last Frontier. My babe was born and raised in the 49th state, and can actually still sing the first few lines of Alaska's state song, pounded into her head by an elementary school teacher in between snowstorms, avalanches and Iditarods.)
I'm digressing, but what's new?
Point is, the onslaught of snow-covered Lexus ads made me feel warm all over -- and, really, who doesn't want a piece of those tools who gleefully hand their significant others keys to the Lexus under the tree? Yeah. Like we've all got that dialed in. What'd you get your girl? I mean, besides the Lexus?
But the real story of the weekend was The Voices!
Which screams Thanksgiving season louder:
The traditional Mud Bowl neighborhood football game (which our 'hood hasn't really pulled together since the late '80s, now that everyone is fat and married)?
Or the sound of Bill Raftery?
The weekend was a time to revel in Old School Broadcasters, that dying breed of the 20th century, still hanging on for the slow death rattle in the early 21st century. But these are the voices of our childhood, dwellers! On Saturday, it went like this for me:
Cued up UCLA-Duke basketball, only to hear Billy Packer back as color analyst for CBS. Billy Packer, still getting it done! I remember this cat bringing home the magic of Villanova's Harold Jensen in 1985, saying, "He's got ice water in his veins!" when Jensen hit those critical Js in the upset of Georgetown. At the time, I thought the phrase "ice water in his veins!" was as cool as the English language got. Turns out Packer was trotting out a cliché along the lines of "Villanova took this NCAA tournament one game at a time!" But who knew? I was 17, and enthralled.
During a commercial, I flipped over to Miami-Syracuse, only to be looking live at a game called by Brent Musberger. Brent Musburger! This cat goes so far back, Jimmy the Greek still had his rep intact. Musburger might be the ultimate survivor: Drummed out of more network gigs than Tom Snyder, Musburger keeps coming back for more. This guy is like Oliver, from "Oliver!" Please, sir, may I have some more Brent Musburger? They tried to toss him out, threw him down to Williamsport -- only to have Musberger keep showing up for work! And there he was, working Miami-Syracuse, still collecting checks. God bless this guy.
Anyway, halftime of the UCLA-Duke game, and Tim Brando -- there's a whole 'nother story -- announces the return of "The Governor," Bill Raftery.
Raftery! I've always dreamed of attending a wedding where Raftery serves as Justice of the Peace, capping the proceedings with his call: "You may now kiss the bride." Would bring down the house.
As if all this Old School stuff weren't enough, the evening was capped off by SC-Notre Dame, with Keith Jackson in the booth. If I need to waste any words on the epic legend of Keith Jackson, then we really don't know each other, do we, dwellers?
Combine all this announcing mayhem with the fact that Henry Kissinger is back in the headlines, and you don't know whether to do the Hustle, or put on your safety helmet for Skylab's inevitable fall.
I sometimes worry for our next generation of sports lunatics. The trend for the last decade has been to hire former players in the booth, and sure, it's understandable: Get the inside view.
I have to think, somehow, they're missing out. There is something sorta special about the career announcer, the Musberger-Jackson type who becomes your favorite sports TV uncle. The cadence, the catch phrases, the fact you know this guy sweated out minor-league baseball and small-conference college football to get to the summit, so he can proudly tell you that ... Whoa, Nellie! You are looking live at ...
We have no place to go but straight to the Weekend List of Five:
1. In praise of "Inside the NFL"
Picture this: My Saturday afternoon. A trip to the kitchen. Leftover turkey. Wheat bread. Mayo. Stuffing. A beer. Back to the living room. Fire up TiVo. Watch an hour of "Inside the NFL" while eating said bird, drinking said lager.
Pretty much your perfect Saturday.
Why? First of all, Bob Costas is one of the best sports anchors ever. Period. Why doesn't this guy have a national radio show? Where have you gone, thoughtful, literate sports radio? A nation dumber than a box of rocks turns its lonely eyes to you.
Second, the "instant history" factor. My babe made that call, as we watched an NFL Films replay of the 49ers-Chargers game last week. "It's so cool," she said, "instant history." Exactly. An NFL game replayed days later on NFL Films, with Harry Kalas at the mike? This, pretty much, is the sports equivalent of "Victory at Sea."
Third, great access. Cris Carter had Warren Sapp two days after The Clifton Affair, and had the straight dope, curse words included. How great that we heard Mike Sherman actually tell Warren Sapp that he pulled a "chickens---" move.
Fourth, you watch "Inside the NFL," you get the crowd shot of Michael Imperioli at the Jets-Bills game. Christopher! With Harry Kalas calling it! I challenge you to top that.
Finally, it's HBO. After the midnight rerun of "Inside the NFL" on Friday, you can get copious nudity.
I rest my case.
2. SC-Notre Dame
My futile hatred of the University of Southern California hath reached that time.
Have you ever seen a major college football showdown where one team so clearly did not belong on the same field as the other team?
Have you ever seen a quarterback in college better than this superhuman Carson Palmer?
Have you ever seen hotter song girls than USC's?
This is our only recourse -- the base instinct. If we can't topple USC's juggernaut, perhaps we can convince a few of those sweater-wearing song girls to convert to the dark side, and become regular readers of The Cooler. It's our only hope.
3. Cruel fate, thy name is UCLA basketball
He retires in 1975, and through the grace of the Big Basketball Coach in the Sky, lives to see the year 2002, when the Wizard turns 92.
By living this long, he has to see his beloved team be coached by a slick-haired huckster straight off the used car lot. He lives to see his team coached by Steve Lavin.
What is this? Is this like Sinatra living long enough to get a call from his agent saying: "We've got this Michael Bolton kid, he wants to record some of your tunes. Are we OK with that?"
Has John Wooden turned into Job? Is he being tested by some unseen force?
Wizard, we're with you, buddy. We feel your pain.
4. A few more random thoughts From Thanksgiving weekend
Always interesting to see the Thanksgiving halftime performers. Curious to see young female crooner Vanessa Carlton at Ford Field, but then again, I was at a party in San Francisco where Carlton was spotted on the arm of Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins. True story. Remembering his 15-minutes-of-fame band on Thanksgiving three years ago, I figure somewhere near the Appletinis he said to her: "Look, if the NFL calls, do it. Great gig. Your career will take off, baby." Then, of course, she was backed up by Bon Jovi, which doesn't even bother to traffic in the Integrity Game. Dangle a check, and the boys are gassing up the charter in Jersey ...
Pardon me, but I'm still a little misty over the Jerry Jones-Jimmy Johnson reunion, especially when Jerry broke down and admitted: "I was so torn up over your departure, Jimmy, I had to go get this facelift." And Jimmy's tearful response: "Who are you? Zsa Zsa Gabor?"
5. Our new favorite human
Keith Jackson: "When the wagon train is a-rollin', this horse won't stop till the Pony Express rumbles past the herd and across the river until camp is set by the fire of a victory ... Michael Vick ... whoa, Nellie!"
Bill Raftery: "He's got the SKILLS to EX-e-cute his funda-MENT-als ... with the KISS off the glass! And he doesn't even play basketball!"
Billy Packer: "I'll tell you what, Jim. Nobody in the country does a better job than Coach K at Duke."
Brent Musberger: "You are Looking Live at the Professional Bowling Association's Akron Open, where even Michael Vick would be wowed by the talent assembled inside these lanes today."
A guy can dream, can't he?
Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.