Cool Hand Luke, Wilt the Stilt, and the nine-headed monster
By Locke Peterseim, Britannica.com
Special to ABC Sports Online

Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand

Pregame
The Set-up: Al Michaels asked Miller for his impressions on his first visit to the Network Associates Coliseum.

The Quip: To quote from The Book of Facenda, "The autumn wind is a Raider."

The Read: For the second week in a row Miller goes to "The Voice of God," the late NFL Films announcer John Facenda. It was Facenda who read the poem "Autumn Wind," with its closing ode to Oakland mayhem: "The autumn wind is a Raider, / Pillaging just for fun; / He'll knock you around, / And upside down, / And laugh when he's conquered and won."

The poem was written by Steve Sabol, as were most of the films' melodramatic scripts. It was Sabol's father, Ed, who started out filming the 1962 NFL Championship game (his winning bid for the job was $3,000) and three years later founded NFL Films with the 12 NFL team owners. Ed brought in his son to help produce weekly highlight reels from around the league and soon a mythic style evolved, featuring slow motion shots of bone-jarring hits and Facenda's Voice, gravely intoning Sabol's epic poetry and prose.

Later, some geek named Keats clearly ripped Sabol off with his cheap imitation "To Autumn." It had lines like: "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, / Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; / Conspiring with him how to load and bless, / With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run, / Now go out there and kick some ass."


The Set-up: The broadcast was set to feature the scoring of the 20,000th point in Monday Night Football history.

The Quip: "Nobody knows what it feels like to score 20,000 times now that the NBA's beloved Big Dipper, Wilt Chamberlain has passed on."

Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt remembering what a good time he had with #13,914.

The Read: Wilt the Stilt made his infamous claim of having slept with almost 20,000 women in his 1991 autobiography "A View from Above," noting that it averaged out to "1.2 women a day, every day since I was fifteen years old." He also claimed he made an effort to make sure that none of the women were married at the time.

Despite this noble gesture, Chamberlain still drew plenty of flack for such an admission in the age of AIDS, including criticism and doubt about the claim's veracity from Arthur Ashe. Before his death in 1999 Chamberlain tried to explain why he put the number out there, noting that it was more of a rounded-off guesstimate than an actual tally and that life in the '70s was more amenable to running up high numbers of sexual encounters. For one thing video games still looked pretty lame, and there wasn't as much good television to watch.

These days Chamberlain's Los Angeles mansion is on the market, but remains unsold. The realtors have even dropped the asking price from 7.4 million dollars to 4.3 million - looking at it from Wilt's point of view, that's about $215 a woman, which ain't bad for LA.

First quarter
The Set-up: Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski draws a penalty and the ire of the Oakland crowd.

The Quip: "Nobody in the league they like booing more than Bill Romanowski He's like Gorgeous George."

Gorgeous George
Gorgeous George body-slams a camera.

The Read: Born in 1915 in Seward, Nebraska, George Wagner set out to make a name for himself in professional wrestling during the '30s. However, at 5 feet 9 inches and 215 pounds, there was nothing terribly imposing or memorable about the young man. So he grew his hair out, curled it, and dyed it platinum blond. Calling himself "The Human Orchid," George entered the ring wearing fancy robes and accompanied by a valet. He was also the first wrestler to use "entrance music," in his case "Pomp and Circumstance."

The gimmick worked, the audiences were properly incensed at George's snobbery, and professional wrestling would never be the same. By the time he first appeared on television in 1947, George had his bit down pat: the valets would douse his corner with perfume and then George would set about to cheat his way to villainous fame. Pro wrestling was television's first big draw and Gorgeous George was its flamboyant, eye-gouging beacon, leading the way for generations of grapplin' greatness.

Even today, every time The Rock hits someone with a chair, George is there. Every time a young child in the stands cries out for The Undertaker to lay a Tombstone piledriver on his opponent until bowels release, George is there. He's there in the impish gleam in Vince McMahon's eye and the jaunty tilt of a certain midwestern governor's pen every time he vetoes a bill.

Second quarter
The Set-up: Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon completed a pass to wide receiver Jerry Rice after Rice and wide receiver Tim Brown ran a tandem pass route, burning Broncos cornerback Deltha O'Neal.

The Quip: "Rice and Brown like Hope and Crosby there, they just worked the kid."

The Read: Bing Crosby and Bob Hope met in summer 1932 on the streets of New York, and performed together for the first time later that year. By the late '30s Crosby was a singing sensation, selling millions of copies of hits like "Where the Blue of the Night" and "White Christmas." Hope had made his way from Broadway to radio to parts in films such as "The Big Broadcast of 1938," where he first sang "Thanks for the Memory."

But in 1939 the two performed together again in San Diego, throwing in some old vaudeville routines and catching the attention of a Paramount Pictures production chief. Paramount had an old, discarded Burns and Allen script called "Road to Mandalay" that they decided to rework for Hope and Crosby, adding in love interest Dorothy Lamour. Mandalay became Singapore and the resulting 1940 film launched one of Hollywood's most popular film series.

"The Road to Singapore" also established the standard routine for the subsequent "Road" films: Crosby is the con man on the lam to an exotic locale, Hope is his hapless partner, and Lamour the damsel in distress they run across and end up fighting over. Scripts were tossed aside for ad-libs, songs were broken into, and the "fourth wall" between film reality and the audience was often trampled.

Between 1940 and 1962 Hope and Crosby made seven films, taking their zany "Road" show to Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali, and Hong Kong. A reunion film, "Road to the Fountain of Youth" was being planned in 1978, but Crosby died of a heart attack before production could begin.

Luckily the Hope and Crosby legacy has been proudly carried on through performances such as Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase in "Spies Like Us," Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty in "Ishtar," and Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin in "Bio-Dome."


The Set-up: Brian Griese completes a pass to tight end Desmond Clark.

The Quip: "Well they used to have a multi-head hydra at tight end for the Denver Broncos but it seems like they've whittled it down now pretty much to Carswell and Desmond Clark."

The Read: In the marshes near Argos lurked the nine-headed monster of Greek mythology, the hydra. The nasty thing about the hydra, as if the nine heads weren't enough, was that while the center head was immortal, the other eight, if cut off, would immediately grow two more in their place, making the hydra effectively Weed Wacker-proof.

It took Hercules, a hero not usually known for his smarts, to figure out how to defeat the hydra. Sent to defeat the creature as his Second Labor, Hercules (or Heracles to the Greeks) managed the feat with the help of his nephew Iolaus. Herc would lop off a hydra head with his club and then have Iolaus immediately cauterize the stump with the torch, preventing the two heads from sprouting. When they'd finally worked their way down to the last, immortal head, Hercules cut it off and buried it under a big rock.


The Set-up: Miller discussed the depth of the talent in Oakland receiver corps as the camera flashed to Jerry Rice.

The Quip: "Sure, as a receiver Rice is way out there -- past the Pillars of Hercules. But I'm telling you, he might be greatest player of all time."

The Read: We're still following Greece's biggest (and most ill-tempered) hero on his legendary Labors of Penance for accidentally killing his wife and kids in a fit of madness. For Hercules' 10th Labor he was dispatched to the far western island of Erytheia to steal the cattle of the three-headed giant, Geryon. Upon his arrival at what is now the Strait of Gibraltar, the western end of the known classical world, Hercules decided to leave his mark by erecting two mountains: the Rock of Gibraltar to the north of the strait and Mount Hacho in Morocco to the south. These would become known as the Pillars of Hercules. Of course Hercules never met a head he couldn't eventually bash in and soon Geryon was dead and the cattle were on their way back to Greece.

Third quarter
The Set-up: With Tom Hanks paying a visit to the MNF booth, Dan Fouts asked Miller if he was also on "Bosom Buddies."

The Quip: "Yeah, I was Donna Dixon."

The Read: "Bosom Buddies" was the 1980-82 sitcom that attempted to resurrect the men-in-drag magic of "Some Like it Hot" with the story of two New York ad men who don the wigs and falsies in order to get cheap rent in an all-women's building. The tall guy, Kip (Tom Hanks) goes along with the plan of the little guy, Henry (Peter Scolari), in order to be close to the woman of his dreams, building resident Sonny (Donna Dixon). So Kip and Henry become Buffy and Hildegarde, and madcap hilarity naturally ensues.

Of course, "Bosom Buddies" is best remembered as the launch pad for the film career of Peter Scolari, who went on to star in the 1993 feature film "Ticks."

Fourth quarter
The Set-up: On previous broadcasts, Miller was often seen in the booth wearing jeans and an Oxford. But this week he was wearing a suit and tie.

The Quip: "They broke me down like Cool Hand Luke a few weeks ago. I was trying to dress in the skivvies up here, but Freddie whacked me around, now I'm in the suit. You want me to go fetch that duck, walking boss? Get that 50th egg in!"

Cool Hand Paul, the best cigarette salesman ever.

The Read: From 1967 until 1983, "Cool Hand Luke" held the title of The Sweatiest Movie Ever Made, until "Staying Alive" came along. The Oscar-nominated film ("Cool Hand Luke," that is, not "Staying Alive") tells the story of Lucas Jackson (Paul Newman in perhaps his most iconic role), an anti-hero, "a natural-born world-shaker," who winds up on a southern chain gang after drunkenly cutting the tops off a row of parking meters. (Donn Pearce, author of the book "Cool Hand Luke" and co-author of the film's script, did time on a chain gang for safe-cracking.)

Luke immediately finds himself up against the Captain (Strother Martin) who, for the rest of the film, tries to break the new "hard case" (leading to the famous "What we have here is a failure to communicate" line). It's Luke's fellow inmate Dragline (Oscar-winner George Kennedy) who gives him his nickname after watching Luke win a poker pot by bluffing a nothing hand. In life, as in cards, Luke explains, "sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand."

It's also Dragline who asks the guard if he can go chase a duck, and it's Dragline who gets Luke into a bet that he can't eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour in the film's most memorable scene. As Luke chokes down 30, then 40 eggs, his belly extends "just like a ripe watermelon that's about to bust itself open," and Dragline coaches him to "everlastin' glory," telling Luke they're "just little ol' eggs. They pigeon eggs, that's all."


The Set-up: Raiders safety Marquez Pope almost intercepted a Griese pass.

The Quip: "Marquez Pope John the 23rd. Wasn't that the best pope?"

The Read: Pope John XXIII was born Angleo Roncalli in Italy in 1881. As a student and then a priest Roncalli did not particularly stand out, but instead slowly and steadily made his way up the church hierarchy.

In 1958, at age 71, Cardinal Roncalli believed he had reached the end of the line in terms of Church politics. So it was a surprise to many, including Cardinal Roncalli, when he was made pope following the death of Pius XII. More surprises followed as the aged pontiff, instead of simply riding out his days in calm, decorative stewardship of the papacy, called for the first ecumenical council in a century, to address the need for reform of the Roman Catholic Church in the face of changing times.

The resulting meeting of church bishops, Vatican II, ran from 1962 until 1965 and produced significant changes in everything from how mass was conducted (it was no longer required to be in Latin) and the Church's attitude toward Jews (expressing regrets for past anti-Semitism) as well as the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches.

John XXIII died in 1963, before the completion of Vatican II, but his warm, open personality and his initiation of such major changes guaranteed he would go down in history as one of the most popular and significant popes in the 20th century and possibly of all time.


The Set-up: After Denver running back Detron Smith got in a late shot on Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter, Fouts mentioned that these two teams "don't like each other."

The Quip: "These guys make the Hatfields and McCoys look like the Bradys."

The Read: Folk history says that the epic battle between the two Appalachian mountain families in the 1880s started out over a stolen hog. But today scholars feel the animosity between McCoys of Pike County, Kentucky, and the Hatfields of Logan County, West Virginia, was the result of larger economic forces put into motion when the Tug Valley area shared by the families was opened up for logging and coal mining.

Whatever the cause, simmering animosities broke into hostilities when the McCoys, led by Randolph "Rand'l" McCoy killed Ellison Hatfield during a brawl in 1882. The Hatfields, led by William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield retaliated by kidnapping and executing three McCoys. There followed seven years of ambushes and killings until finally the conflict reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1888 and resulted in the hanging of one Hatfield and the imprisonment of eight others.

Of course, in his glib dismissal of the Brady Bunch, Miller has clearly forgotten about the ugliness and eventual violence that came to pass in Episode 94, "A Room at the Top," when Mike and Carol both promised the attic room to Greg and Marcia, respectively.

Locke Peterseim is a senior editor at Britannica.com.

Research assistant: Dave Ihlenfeld


 
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