King Kaufman's Sports Daily

A telethon hosted by Chris Berman: Sounds like a living hell, but ABC and the NFL do a mostly nice job for hurricane relief. On the field, the Saints fizzle and the Cowboys get hit by lightning.



Salon Staff
September 20, 2005 11:00PM (UTC)

So you're watching the "Monday Night Football" double-header and you decide to call and donate to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund for hurricane relief. The pleas have worked, and you're excited not just to help the victims and the cleanup, but to talk to one of the past or present NFL stars manning the phones.

What will you say to Gale Sayers or Bart Starr, John Elway or Donovan McNabb? Before you know it there's a click and he's right there on the line with you.

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Wayne Chrebet.

Cheer up. You're helping people in need and it could have been worse: The first time the camera panned along the back row of the phone bank, I just caught a glimpse of the New York Jets wide receiver's nameplate and I thought it said "Roger Clinton."

I'd been afraid of the possibilities when I heard Chris Berman would be hosting a telethon to cap the NFL's Hurricane Relief Weekend during the Monday night games.

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I'd rather walk across broken glass and dive into a swimming pool of flaming snot than watch a telethon hosted by Chris Berman, for any reason. I didn't know how I'd respond to the awful sight of Berman putting his annoying shtick on hold in favor of some long-face bathos.

And when the broadcast of the early game, the New Orleans Saints' transferred home opener against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium, opened on Berman sitting in ABC's Times Square studio with Robin Roberts, plus Regis Philbin and Tony Danza, I thought, "Oh my, this is going to be worse than I thought!"

Roberts and Berman had been in the studio with the phones during ESPN's countdown show before the games too. I skipped that, didn't you?

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But happily, Berman was kept to a minimum and Philbin and Danza soon faded into the phone bank. Roberts, a total pro who can and has anchored the network news, did most of the hosting.

There were some brief interviews with the Hall of Famers and current players on phone duty and Roberts had a chat with former President Bill Clinton, but other than that, ABC and ESPN pretty much stuck to football, with the occasional tasteful plea for donations and ignorable music videos/requests for donations by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi.

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The worst thing about the show was watching all those football stars cradling telephone handsets between their chins and their left shoulders. Couldn't the NFL or ABC have sprung for some headsets? I got sore just looking at them. How would it look if McNabb had to miss the Philadelphia Eagles' next game with a sore neck caused by poor ergonomics?

ABC and ESPN mostly did a nice job balancing the twin goals of showing two football games and also doing some major fundraising without too much self-congratulation.

The hosts were a little light on giving the phone number and never engaged in the twin telethon pastimes of stating a fundraising goal and tracking the progress of the donations. That was fine with me. It lent the proceedings a touch of dignity usually absent when people are begging for money, however worthy the cause.

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But there were a few missteps, most notably at the switch from the first game to the second.

The networks had advertised that the Giants-Saints game would air on ABC from 7:30 to 9 p.m. EDT, then switch to ESPN, except in the New York and New Orleans areas, where it would stay on the big network because it was a local game. At 9, the regularly scheduled Washington-Dallas "match," to use Mick Jagger's word, would start on ABC, as usual.

But with the Giants and Saints playing late in the second quarter, ABC switched away from the game at 8:53. The game moved to ESPN right away, but anyone taping it to watch later, or watching it on a digital-video delay, missed seven minutes that included the two-minute warning, but also the Giants scoring their third touchdown, making the score 21-7 and putting the Saints into a hole they wouldn't escape.

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This would have been forgivable if ABC had used that time to push for donations, but it didn't. Berman came on for about a minute, but mostly to give programming notes, telling fans what game was going to be on what network and pointing to the guys on the phones. The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund number (1-888-635-5944) flashed on the screen, but Berman made no mention of it.

The next six minutes were taken up with commercials, none of them the hurricane relief ads that had been airing all night, interrupted by a two-minute tease for the Washington-Dallas game by Al Michaels. At 9, "Monday Night Football" opened as usual, with one of those dumb skits promoting an ABC show, the Hank Williams Jr. song, etc.

By the time ABC flashed the number on the screen at 9:07, 13 minutes had passed with no football and no mentions of hurricane relief. All ABC did was sell cars and its own shows.

It's a tough line to walk, trying to do good while also conducting your business. Nobody's asking Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, to raise money for relief and give up the revenue it takes in during football broadcasts.

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But perhaps the pointless promo for "Lost" could have been lost on this night. And maybe on this night, when it had an actual game as a pregame show, ABC shouldn't have decided that "Monday Night Football" needed 15 minutes of commercials and pregame schtuss instead of the usual eight.

Unfortunately for the networks, the games themselves were pooches for the most part. The Saints fumbled the opening kickoff away, quickly fell behind 14-0, recovered to score a touchdown, then fell apart, losing 27-10.

New Orleans played the kind of sloppy, distracted ball you'd expect them to play given the circumstances. Quarterback Aaron Brooks reverted to form as the very personification of one of Berman's signature lines: "Wooop!"

The Cowboys and Washington struggled for three and a half low-scoring quarters, Dallas' 13-0 lead partly the result of tough defense and partly of poor offense, especially by Washington.

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Drew Bledsoe's picture-perfect 70-yard touchdown pass to Terry Glenn in the third quarter, a thing of beauty that Glenn caught in stride, a throw that actually had me thinking briefly that Drew Bledsoe will do great things this year, was the lone highlight other than the Cowboys' dynamite throwback uniforms.

A fashion note that's true in all sports: When you replace silver with white, you have done a good thing.

Then Washington, which had gone almost 116 minutes without a touchdown this season, scored two on a pair of lightning bolts 1:13 apart. Mark Brunell hit Santana Moss in the end zone on fourth and 15 from the Dallas 39, and then Brunell hit Moss in stride, as pretty a throw as Bledsoe's, for the game-winning 70-yard score.

The Cowboys had a couple of chances in the final minutes, but couldn't get into field-goal range.

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All in all a fine evening. Two football games with staggered start times and some money raised to help people on the Gulf Coast. The Giants and Saints will contribute $1 million from the gate receipts, the Giants pledged an additional $400,000, and the NFL Players Association announced it would donate $1 million. The amount raised by the telethon itself wasn't available at this column's posting time.

And best of all: Not too much Chris Berman, and you got to talk to Wayne Chrebet.

Previous column: ChiSox, WNBA, bad NFL picks

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