The Best of ADM 2001
ABC Sports Online

Editor's note: Thanks to the work of Britannica.com contributing editor Locke Peterseim and research assistant Dave Ihlenfeld, ABC Sports Online and Britannica.com were able to explain the random acts of witticism from Dennis Miller. This week, we put our heads together to bring you the best of what Dendu had to offer during the 2001 season of Monday Night Football. Be sure to check out a new column on ESPN.com's Page 2, "Closer Look", where Locke and his team dissect the sports world as they did Miller.


  Vikings vs. Ravens

The set-up: As the game, and the MNF season, wound down, Al gave Miller some investing advice, pointing out how low most of the stocks have fallen for dot-com companies that bought naming rights for sports stadiums and arenas.

The quip: "Well, I have all my money with my money manager MC Hammer and we just bought a moped factory in South Yemen, so I think I'm covered."

MC Hammer
Hammer, time marches on.
The read: How to get your very own VH1 "Behind the Music": Get out of poverty-ridden environment by becoming a major league baseball team ball boy. Dazzle bored stadium crowds with sideline dancing. Buddy up to Reggie Jackson -- get him to give you nickname of home run king. Create massive-selling chart-topping pop record by liberally sampling Rick James (avoid sampling Rick James' life until you are absolutely ready for tragic ending to "True Hollywood Story"). Make $30 million a year. Get entourage. (Again, avoid including Rick James until last possible moment.) Buy racehorses -- everyone loves the ponies. Get Saturday morning superhero cartoon based on you. Become too legit to quit. Spend $40 million a year. Become too broke to continue. File for bankruptcy. Call glue factory, negotiate for best deal. When entourage leaves, clean up house for realtors. Find God, lose Rick James' number. Vow to devote powers both musical and superhero to God. Keep money in coffee cans buried in back yard. Repeat as necessary until VH1 producers call.



  Ravens vs. Bucs

The set-up: A very large and sweaty Sam Adams, defensive tackle for the Ravens, was shown sitting on the sidelines.

The quip: "Looks like he's been drinkin' some Sam Adams."

The read: Once upon a time, Samuel Adams was not just a beer. In the 1700s, the Bostonian helped bring about the Colonies' rebellion against the British Crown. In fact, the brewery that Adams inherited from his father pretty much went bust under Sam's steerage, and, a couple of centuries later, in 1985, Samuel Adams Boston Lager was introduced for folks who like to think they are drinking old-time brew.

As a revolutionary plotter and instigator, Adams deserves much more credit than he is usually afforded by history, standing, as he often does, in the shadow of more famous revolutionaries like his fellow conspirators John Hancock, Paul Revere and John Adams, second cousin of Sam.

In fact, in the late 1760s, it was Sam Adams who, along with likewise overlooked lawyer James Otis, led the initial opposition to British taxation. Adams was not known for legal brilliance or literary ability, but he was a passionate speaker and a powerful organizer and political planner. His well-aimed propaganda kept Boston riled up against the British, and in 1773, Adams brought the anti-taxation movement to a boil by planning, though not participating in, the Boston Tea Party. The next year Sam and cousin John led the call for independence and, in 1776, as a member of the Continental Congress, Sam signed the Declaration of Independence. After the war, Adams served as the governor of Massachusetts, while John became the second U.S. president.

So which cousin is winning the immortality sweepstakes? In May, a major John Adams biography hit bookstores. Zzzzzzzzzz. Meanwhile, Sam sponsored the Sam Adams Summer Jam Ultimate Party. Woooooooohoooooooo!!!

You make the call.

The set-up: Once again, the topic was the kicking, injury-prone Gramatica brothers.

The quip: "Say what you will about the Gramaticas, but they celebrate like no one else. They're like F. Scott and Zelda -- they don't come home 'til March."

The read: No matter how we hard we try to make these columns a weekly affirmation of life, hope and happiness, they always seem to end up mostly about death, depravity and self-destruction. We are indeed the "Behind the Music" of the sports world.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Fitzgeralds, preparing to drink the ocean.
In the summer of 1918, young Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, having joined the Army, found himself stationed near Montgomery, Ala. It was while attending a dance at the Montgomery Country Club that he met 18-year-old Zelda Sayre, daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court justice, and already a notoriously lovely hell-raiser. They fell instantly in love and were soon engaged. But the following year, when the socially conscious Zelda learned that Scott intended, upon leaving the Army, to work as a lowly, poorly paid copywriter, she broke off the engagement and broke Fitzgerald's heart.

But a year later Scott had published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, and suddenly he was good enough for Zelda again. They married in New York City on Apr. 3, 1920, and were off and running as the glamorous, beautiful poster children for the new Jazz Age. They drank (she was a drinker, he was a drunk), danced, drove fast cars, played in hotel fountains, had a little girl and spent money faster than Scott could earn it. And then they started to go crazy.

In 1924, the Fitzgeralds moved to the French Riviera, where Scott finished "The Great Gatsby" and Zelda took up with a French aviator. Four years later they were back in the U.S. -- Scott got writer's block and Zelda decided to become a ballet dancer. She began practicing up to 10 hours a day and soon the obsession was destroying both her physical and mental health. They moved back to France, and in 1930 Zelda had her first breakdown. She ended up in French and then Swiss clinics, and eventually they returned to the States. Zelda suffered a relapse, and while a patient at Johns Hopkins in 1932 she wrote her autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz. She would be in and out of hospitals and sanitariums for the rest of her life.

Things got worse toward the end of the '30s -- Scott's novels were commercial failures and, thanks to all the boozing, his attempts to sell out to Hollywood were not much more successful. Scott checked Zelda out of the sanitarium one more time in 1939 and took her to Cuba, but again his drinking ruined the trip. (By this time Scott was also involved with the Hollywood gossip columnist Sheila Graham.) Zelda went back into the sanitarium and Scott made one last attempt to get his life together. He stopped drinking, but it was too little, too late and his ravaged body succumbed to heart failure on Dec. 21, 1940. Zelda died eight years later when fire swept through the North Carolina hospital where she was living.

Billy Bob and Angelina? Looks like you've got your work cut out for you ...



  Colts vs. Dolphins

The set-up: Al pointed out that Ann-Margret was in attendance at the game, as she was in Miami with the touring company of "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

The quip: "I was in Dallas last week and I saw 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Miami.'"

The read: Prostitution had been flourishing in La Grange, Texas, for 50 years when Miss Jessie Williams arrived in 1905 and set up shop. After moving her operations to an 11-acre site outside of the town, Williams' establishment earned the nickname "The Chicken Ranch" during the Depression due to her custom of letting impoverished patrons pay for services with poultry.

Edna Milton bought the Ranch in the '50s and, like the madams before her, struck up a mutually beneficial relationship with the local sheriff, in this case T.J. Flournoy. The Chicken Ranch soon became known statewide for its strict standards of behavior and hygiene.

But in 1973 Marvin Zindler, a consumer-affairs television reporter from Houston, aired a weeklong expose on the Ranch, which put the heat on Gov. Dolph Briscoe Jr. to shut down the establishment. The Chicken Ranch was closed in August of 1973, but when Zindler sued Flournoy two years later for pushing him down during an altercation, the little whorehouse became a cause célèbre.

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" opened on Broadway in 1978, grabbing Tonys and spawning a 1982 film version with Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. However, it should be noted that the Broadway musical is not the only melodious byproduct of the Chicken Ranch. The classic 1973 ZZ Top song "La Grange" also pays tribute to "that home out on the range," where "they gotta lotta nice girls."

Have mercy.



  Packers vs. Jaguars

The set-up: The camera shows the tallest building in Jacksonville, the former Independent Life tower, now the Modis building.

The quip: "It used to be the Operandi building."

The read: In criminology the Latin term modus operandi ("operating method"), or MO, refers to the behavioral patterns of a particular criminal. For example, one might always use the same tools and methods to break into a house or the same process for committing fraud.

Or, if one always does the same old thing, that's moldy operandi. If one greedily spits in the face of one's loyal fans and takes one's team to another city out of spite, that's modell operandi. If one sets out to debunk psychics and healers, that's modus amazingrandi. If one shaves one's head and records old folk and blues music to a techno beat, that's moby operandi. If one milks a silly one-note SNL skit to absurd extremes, that's modus operamandi. And finally, if one's plans seem to twist and loop back on themselves, that's moebius operandi.



  Giants vs. Vikings

The set-up: Miller explained that the city of Minneapolis was in need of some good news in light of MLB commissioner Bud Selig's efforts to eliminate the Minnesota Twins.

The quip: "By the way, Bud Selig looks like Harry Potter in the 83rd volume in the series, 'Harry Potter and the Magic Prostate.'"

The read: After hours of frustrating, painstaking research, my assistant and I were unable to find any information on a "Harry Potter." In the end we determined that it was Miller who was confused, most likely mixing up veteran character actor Harry Morgan with Morgan's most famous role, Colonel Sherman T. Potter on the hit television series "M*A*S*H". The reference makes perfect sense: like Bud Selig, Col. Potter wore round, wire-rim glasses and did his best to maintain order while overseeing an organization full of misfits and nimcompoops. We forgive Miller for his understandable slip -- after all, you can't be on top of everything all the time.

The set-up: Miller commented on the size of Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss' hands as he caught a touchdown pass.

The quip: "His hands make the football look like a Hacky Sack."

The read: "Hacky Sack" is the brand name for a popular version of the footbag. As with most other modern sports, versions of the sport of footbag can be traced back to ancient times, in this case to almost every early culture, including east Asia and Native America. The idea, through the ages, was simply to kick a small leather bag filled with pebbles or sand back and forth without it touching the ground.

No pepper, and no hacky sack.
The current version of the footbag was created in 1972 when two guys in Oregon, John Stalberger and Mike Marshall, started kicking a tiny bean bag around -- Stalberger had recently undergone knee surgery and was looking for some rehabilitative exercise. Naturally, they called this activity "hacking the sack." Marshall died in 1975, but in the great American tradition of turning backyard hobbies into corporate empires, by 1977 Stalberger was producing and marketing the "Hacky Sack," selling 77,000 in eight months. In the '80s, he sold the Hacky Sack trademark to Wham-O, home of the Frisbee flying disc.

Lest you think the Hacky Sack is just something the guys down the dorm hall with the funny smelling room kicked around instead of going to class, you should know that there are competitive footbag sports, governed by the International Footbag Committee. "Footbag net" is a lot like tennis, except the ball is filled with beans and you hit it with your foot instead of a racket, while "footbag freestyle" is a lot like figure skating, except there's no ice or skates, and instead you gracefully hit a bean-filled bag with your foot. There is even a Footbag Hall of Fame that includes such luminaries of the sport as Lori Jean Conover, the first competitive female footbagger; Garwin Bruce, "one of the finest coaches the game has ever known;" and Mark Hill, "one of the first to master the use of both feet equally."

We are so not making any of this up.



  Ravens vs. Titans

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, 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' 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.



  Broncos vs. Raiders

The Set-up: Al 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."



  Eagles vs. Giants

The set-up: Al noted that there had been some disappointing games on Monday nights this season.

The quip: "Truth be told, the Monday Night Football vineyard has not yielded an exquisite vintage so far this year. A lot of Ripple, Thunderbird and Boone's Farm turning up on the wine list."

The read: The trio of cheap, fruity wines is produced by Ernest and Julio Gallo. The Gallo brothers inherited their family's vineyard in the mid-'30s after their father murdered their mother and then committed suicide.

In the 1950s, 40-proof port mixed with lemon juice became a popular urban drink, and Gallo set out to emulate the flavor. The result, Thunderbird, became the high-alcohol wine of choice on the street, with an ad campaign to match:

"What's the word?
Thunderbird!
How's it sold?
Good and cold!
What's the jive?
Bird's alive!"

Ripple went on to become Fred Sanford's beverage of choice, and many a teenager in the '70s got his or her first taste of liquor from the sickly-sweet fruit flavors of Boone's Farm. In the '80s, Ernest and Julio Gallo went on to create that most insidious of concoctions, the Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler. However, frustrated by this low-rent reputation, Ernest Gallo turned his attention to creating finer wines and today produces a large number of wines under classier names such as Marcelina, Frei Brothers Reserve and Ecco Domani.

The set-up: Miller mentioned talking to Philadelphia cornerback Troy Vincent, who said the Giants like to "throw one deep once they get past the 50-yard line."

The quip: "Please, give me a Nostradamus break here and do it, Kerry."

The read: For those who did not run out and rent "The Man Who Saw Tomorrow" after September's Nostradamus WTC e-mail hoax, a few quick facts about Michel de Nostredame.

(It helps if you imagine the following being narrated by Orson Welles.)

A 16th-century French physician who also practiced astrology, Nostradamus first gained public renown in 1555 not for his boring old treatment of plague victims, but for publishing the first of 10 "Centuries" collections he would eventually write. Each "Centuries" contained 100 rhymed quatrains (four-line verses) and offered up a buffet of hit and mostly miss predictions for the future. With astrology having become the rock-and-roll of the French Renaissance, Nostradamus was soon invited to the court of Catherine de Medicis (queen consort to King Henry II), where he became an astrological superstar. He died in 1566.

And that's it. He didn't predict Hitler, or the Great Fire of London, or the rise of boy bands in the late 1990s. We hate to burst anyone's bubble, but Nostradamus wrote obscure, silly poems in archaic French that were as accurate at predicting the future as the annual New Year's issue of the Weekly World News.

We did, however, have an old college pal who, after a few bottles of Thunderbird, would stand up on the nearest bar and exclaim, "I'm Nostradamus! And I predict you're all about to see my ass!"



  Rams vs. Lions

The set-up: In addition to being shut out, the Lions were also plagued by penalties.

The quip: "Well, God is in the details, and Mornhinweg's got to tighten up the little things before he can look at the big picture."

The read: "God is in the details" has been attributed to everyone from Gustave Flaubert and Friedrich Nietzsche to Albert Einstein (who gets all the good quotes). Throw in Winston Churchill and you'd have a royal flush of famous quote-droppers.

It may well simply be an old saying, but in the last half of the 20th century it was most often attributed to Mies van der Rohe, the famous architect who made the statement in a 1959 New York Herald Tribune article. One of the leaders of the International Style of architecture, van der Rohe believed "less is more," as evidenced by the plain, rectangular "box" buildings with steel frames and flat glass surfaces that signify the movement.

Later van der Rohe also tried to take credit for the phrases, "Zeus is in the washroom," "The Buddha is on line two" and "Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah."



  49ers vs. Jets

The set-up: Melissa Stark gave the usual injury report from the sidelines, displaying her new haircut.

The quip: "It looks like Missy's doing something a little different with the coif tonight, Al. A little flip in it like Watergate lawyer John Dean's wife Mo."

The read: Maureen and John Dean married while the young lawyer served as Richard Nixon's White House counsel from '70 to '73. John Dean opened wide the Watergate cover-up when he began to talk to federal investigators, and after a brief prison stint for obstruction of justice, he wrote his memoirs, "Blind Ambition." Meanwhile Maureen wrote "Mo: A Woman's View of Watergate" and later two steamy below-the-Beltway novels: "Washington Wives" and "Capitol Secrets." The latter is the 1992 tale of a congresswoman aiming to become speaker of the house, but who must first "stand up to the media's probing of her and her sexy young daughter's darkest secrets."

But wait, it gets better. Earlier this year that wacky rat-eating, hand-burning, "Miami Vice"-guest-starring Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy testified that the Watergate burglars were really looking for photos that connected Dean's then-fiancée Maureen Biner, to a call girl ring. The claim had been previously raised by authors Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin in their best-selling 1991 Watergate book "Silent Coup." The Deans let fly with lawsuits in both instances, but the Colodny suit was dropped and the Liddy suit dismissed.

However, it should be noted that in Oliver Stone's 1995 film "Nixon," the role of Maureen Dean was played by actress Donna Dixon, who is married to Oscar-nominated actor Dan Aykroyd. Aykroyd got his start on a little television show called "Saturday Night Live" where he went on to co-host that show's "Weekend Update" mock news segment. You can see where this is going -- that's right, that very segment was later hosted by Norm MacDonald, who also appeared in the Adam Sandler vehicle "Billy Madison." And who else has appeared in an Adam Sandler movie? Brace yourself. That's right, "MNF" commentator Dan Fouts, in "The Waterboy." Coincidence? You decide.



  Redskins vs. Packers

The set-up: Brett Favre and Washington quarterback Jeff George both throw off their back foot, but Favre shows better judgment and skill at finding his targets.

The quip: "It's A Tale of Two Cities as far as the quarterbacks go."

Charles Dickens
What the Dickens is he doing with his left hand?
The read: Nearing the end of his writing career in 1859, Charles Dickens set his 12th novel, A Tale of Two Cities, amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution, with his characters moving back and forth between London and Paris. The book opened with the line "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" and closes with its unlikely hero, the roguish Sydney Carton, sacrificing himself during the Reign of Terror to save his double, Charles Darnay. "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;" says Carton on his way to the guillotine. "It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

In early drafts of the novel, Dickens followed that speech with a scene in which Carton, upon seeing the large instrument of decapitation, cried out "Whoa, whoa, whoa, Pierre! That's a 'guillotine?!' I thought it had something to do with a brothel! Let's talk about this, guys." Dickens removed the closing passage after friends suggested it lessened the ending's noble tone.



  Giants vs. Broncos

The set-up: Twin brothers N.Y. Giants running back Tiki Barber and Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber …

The quip: "Sometimes Tiki and Ronde do that Patty Duke thing where they shift teams and don't tell the coaches."

The read: The Patty Duke Show, which debuted in 1963 and starred 16-year-old Patty Duke as both Brooklyn-born Patty Lane and her identical cousin, Cathy Lane. Cathy, the more sophisticated of the two, had lived most everywhere, from Zanzibar to Berkeley Square, resulting in a Continental accent that sounded like Madonna impersonating Kathleen Turner. Cathy also adored a minuet, the Ballet Russes, and crêpe suzettes, while Patty, paving the way for the teen rebellion of the '60s, preferred rock-and-roll and hot dogs.

It's clear the show's appeal lay in its subtle examination of the post-war dichotomy between Europe and the United States, with thousands of years of history and culture (personified in Cathy) juxtaposed against the wild abandon and innovation that had propelled America into its new role as a world power (Patty). That and the wacky swapping of places to fool parents and prospective dates.



  Rams vs. Dolphins

The set-up: Rookie Rams defensive tackle Ryan Pickett commits a personal foul on Miami quarterback Mike Quinn.

The quip: "That hit was later than Godot."

The read: In Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (1953), a classic of modern absurdist drama, two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, meet daily near a tree to await the arrival of the mysterious Godot, who never shows up. Within this existential artistic puzzlement, which resolutely defies simple analysis, Godot is most often considered an allegory for God. From that reading, the tramps' patience, even in the face of Godot's absence and their lack of certainty as to his identity, could represent humans' willingness to suspend disbelief and endure misery while holding on to an ungrounded hope for deliverance at the hand of a supreme being. Or so we're told. We've never quite understood the play ourselves and have been hoping for a movie version with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon that will make it all much clearer.

 
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