Howard Hughes, the Man in Black, and bloody murder
By Locke Peterseim,
Special to ABC Sports Online

Bustin' in like Robert Stack ...

The Set-up: Baltimore's corpulent defensive tackle Tony "Goose" Siragusa sacked Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair.

The Quip: "Wow, he's the Spruce Goose with that move."

The Read: In 1942, flush with several record-breaking flights in the late '30s, aviator Howard Hughes began working with industrialist Henry Kaiser on a new type of plane that could deliver supplies to Europe, thus avoiding the Atlantic Ocean's wartime gauntlet of German U-Boats.

Spruce Goose

Not only did Hughes set out to build a plane big enough to carry large amounts of cargo, but, in the interest of conserving wartime metals, he wanted it constructed mostly from wood. The resulting eight-engine, 219-foot-long, 200-ton plane had a wingspan of 320 feet. It was originally called the Hercules, but Hughes hated the name and simply referred to it as his Flying Boat.

Hughes's painstaking attention to the details of the plane's construction delayed its completion well past the end of the war and led a derisive senator to call it a "flying lumberyard." From this came the nickname "the Spruce Goose," despite the fact the plane, re-envisioned as a passenger carrier, was made primarily of birch.

Hughes finally took his behemoth for a surprise test flight on Nov. 2, 1947, flying the Goose a distance of one mile at up to 80 miles an hour. Though controversy over its cost led a frustrated Hughes to never fly it again, the Spruce Goose was a groundbreaking design, paving the way for today's jumbo jets and cargo planes. It remained the largest airplane ever flown until the 1988 debut of the Russian Antonov "Cossack" 225 jet.

As for Siragusa, if the 340-pound Goose wants to appear a little more spruce he might try the Howard Hughes diet: hole up in the top of the Desert Inn hotel in Vegas for ten years, watch "Ice Station Zebra" incessantly, and live on opiates and bottled water. Of course, he might want to skip the rest of the Hughes health plan: the part about bathing in rubbing alcohol, letting his hair and fingernails grow out, and saving his urine in jars.

The Set-up: We're shown Johnny Cash's black jacket with a blue scarf, which is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

The Quip: "I can't see Johnny Cash wearing that coat -- it looks off. He's the Man in Black -- what's with that blue thing there? Did he wear that to his prom?"

Johnny Cash
The Read: In his 1971 song "Man in Black," Johnny Cash claims he wears "the black for the poor and the beaten down, / Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town" and "for the thousands who have died, / Believin' that the Lord was on their side."

It was the height of social unrest in America, and Cash, the son of a Baptist sharecropper from Arkansas, already had established himself as a crusader for the "beaten down." Songs like 1964's "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" (about the Pima Indian who raised the flag over Iwo Jima but later died a lonely, alcohol-sodden death on an Arizona reservation) and his late-'60s concerts at Folsom and San Quentin prisons gave Cash an outsider's credibility at a time when country music was considered "square."

Later, in his 1975 autobiography "Man in Black," Cash explained the more prosaic initial reason for the fashion statement: When he was starting out with his band, "Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two," in 1954, rockabilly protocol required band members to be dressed alike. The only matching clothes all three musicians owned were black and so, as is so often the case, simple necessity and convenience dictated the path of cool.

Just think he could be known as "the Man in Pink."

The Set-up: The Titans offense was unable to make any great gains during a 15-play drive that ended with a failed field-goal attempt.

The Quip: "It was like World War I all the way down the field for the Titans, like trench warfare."

The Read: Though trenches, or ditches, had been used in battle since the Middle Ages, it was in Europe's Great War, or World War I, from 1914 to 1918, that they were used to their greatest extent.

Following the Battle of the Marne in September 1914, the German army retreated to the River Aisne and built defensive entrenchments against the pursuing French and British troops. Since the Germans dug in first, they were able to select the higher ground and the best positions, while the Allies, unable to break through the German line, were forced to build their corresponding trenches in wet, lower flats.

For the next three years, the resulting maze of zigzagging, parallel trench systems on both sides spread hundreds of miles along the Western Front, from the Belgium coast, through northeast France, and into Switzerland. Trenches were usually about seven feet deep and six feet wide and the parallel rows -- at least one to a side -- went back about a mile from the front line, with some German trench systems going back 14 miles from the front. Between the two armies ran "No Man's Land," usually covered in barbwire and about 250 yards wide, but sometimes as narrow as seven yards. Life in the trenches was miserable: on top of the constant shelling and machine-gunning, water soaked through the floors, especially on the Allied side, and rats and lice ran rampant.

With machine gun and artillery technology having reached devastating levels, neither side could break through the other's defenses, despite huge, costly efforts, as in the battles of the Somme and Verdun in 1916. Eventually it was the advent of the armored vehicle -- the tank -- that undermined the effectiveness of trench warfare and broke the stalemate for the Allies in 1918.

The Set-up: We're shown Nashville's Parthenon museum while the "Tennessee Waltz" plays in the background.

The Quip: "It's the Grand Old Acropolis."

The Read: In addition to the Grand Old Opry, Nashville is also home to the 104-year-old Parthenon museum, an actual-size replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
The Parthenon
Originally the Greek idea of an "acropolis" or "city at the top" was to provide a home for the gods on the highest point in any city. The Parthenon was built as part of the Athenian acropolis in the 5th century B.C. by the decree of Pericles, with architects Ictinus and Callicrates working under the supervision of the sculptor Phidias.

The Parthenon housed Phidias' enormous gold statue of Athena, which was removed in the 5th century A.D. when the temple was turned into a Christian church. In 1458 the Turks came along and made the building into a mosque, and in 1687, as the Venetians fought the Turks, a powder keg stored in the Parthenon exploded, as powder kegs are wont to do, destroying the center of the structure.

In the early 1800s Lord Elgin of Britain came along and, noticing that the intricate mythological sculptures along the front of the roof would go very nicely with his drapes back home, swiped what would come to be known as the Elgin Marbles for Mother England. They are still on display today in the British Museum, despite much international controversy over what to do with things swiped a while ago by empire-building nations.

Meanwhile, Memphis, Tenn., has a giant glass pyramid which is just like the older pyramids in Memphis, Egypt, except you can play professional sports in the Tennessee one. It's probably only a matter of time before Knoxville builds a replica of Stonehenge that doubles as a Skee-Ball alley.

The Set-up: Titans wide receiver Eddie Berlin prevents a Ravens runback with a diving shoe-tackle on Baltimore Jermaine Lewis.

The Quip: "Ironically a guy named Berlin showed some pretty good north to south speed."

The Read: Following the mad dash by the Allied armies toward Berlin in the spring of 1945, the capital city of Germany was divided into four sections, controlled by Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union, respectively.

Meanwhile the Soviets controlled East Germany, which surrounded Berlin. When the Western powers decided to unite their sections of Berlin into a single zone in 1948, it angered the Soviets, who controlled the surrounding East Germany. This led to the Soviet blockade of West Berlin and the subesequent western airlifts.

As tensions grew in the Soviet side of Berlin, 2.5 million East German Berliners fled to the western side of the city between 1949 and 1961. Finally, in the dead of night on August 13, 1961, the East German government and the Soviets closed the border between, first putting up barbed wire and eventually enclosing all of West Berlin in 15-foot-high concrete blocks.

The Berlin Wall ran 28 miles through the city and another 75 miles around the western edge. It remained in place for 28 years during which time around 5,000 East Berliners escaped to West Berlin, while 5,000 were captured and 191 killed in failed attempts to escape.

On Nov. 9, 1989, following the removal of East Germany's hard-line communist leadership, the border between East and West Berlin opened and the concrete slabs of the wall began to be pulled down by exuberant Berliners.

The Set-up: The camera suddenly cuts to a shot of the commentators in the broadcasting booth, catching Miller with his reading glasses on.

The Quip: "[MNF producer] Freddy's coming to the booth. Jesus, he's like Robert Stack coming busting through the door."

Robert Stack
The Read: Stoic, square-jawed actor Robert Stack got an Oscar nomination for the 1956 film "Written on the Wind," but it was his television role as mob-buster Eliot Ness in the 1959-63 ABC series "The Untouchables" that made him a household name.

Thirty years earlier the Department of Justice's Chicago Prohibition bureau hired the real-life Ness to bring down Al Capone's bootlegging empire. Ness formed around him a young, corruption-free team that earned the nickname "the Untouchables" for their resistance to bribery, and in 1931 Ness and the Untouchables sent Capone up the river on tax evasion charges.

After the disbanding of the Untouchables, Eliot Ness began to drink heavily and bounced around various law enforcement jobs and unsuccessful business enterprises. After a run for mayor of Cleveland failed in 1947, Ness slipped more deeply into alcoholism, depression, and debt, and died of a heart attack in 1957. His romanticized memoir, "The Untouchables," was published posthumously that year.

The book reignited interest in Ness's glory days and Stack's TV series soon followed. In it, Ness and his Untouchables did not disband after putting Capone away, but continued to fight on in Chicago, tommy guns blazing. The show was a huge success but was cancelled amid protests over its violence and the fact that most of the villains had Italian surnames, including Ness's post-Capone nemesis Frank Nitti.

If you think Stack was mad about the show's cancellation, think how he felt when the 1987 movie "The Untouchables" came out and he saw his role taken over by reedy-voiced, weak-chinned, "neat" boy Kevin Costner.

The Set-up: Ravens cornerback Duane Starks was knocked unconscious after a fierce collision with teammate Ray Lewis.

The Quip: "Something wicked this way comes."

The Read: The line is from Act 4, scene 1 of "Macbeth" and is spoken by one of the three witches who have been sharing their prophesies of power with Macbeth. By this point Macbeth, acting on the witches' divinations, has murdered his king, Duncan, and his main rival, Banquo. The three hags hunch over a steaming caldron, intoning "Double, double toil and trouble," when suddenly one of them says "By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes." Sure enough, along comes Macbeth, who by this point has indeed slid into wickedness.

At Macbeth's behest, the witches conjure three final prophetic apparitions for him: First, a head in a helmet, warning him of Macduff; second, a bloody child, telling him no man born of woman can harm him; and finally, a crowned child carrying a tree, signifying that until Birnam Wood moves against him, Macbeth will not fall.

Unlike Macbeth, Ray Lewis was acquitted of murder. But neither got to go to Disney World.

Locke Peterseim is a senior editor at

Research assistant: Dave Ihlenfeld  HELP |  ADVERTISER INFO |  CONTACT US |  TOOLS |  SITE MAP
Copyright ©2001 ESPN Internet Group. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site. Employment opportunities at


Annotated Dennis Miller Archive