© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002
When last Monday Night Football visited Tampa, Martin Gramatica was compared with Latka Gravas from Taxi: "I hit ball, score zone, wood appear, plunk, no point."
This time, Gramatica was cautioned to celebrate with both feet on the ground. Hardy har.
Last time, after Mike Alstott was stopped, we got: "You don't see Master-Blaster stood up like that too often."
This time, we got "wow, look at those forearms" upon first sight of Michael Pittman. Har.
Last time, we got "(the NFL), it's the Serengeti Plain for nice guys" in reference to Tony Dungy's playoff failings.
This time we were told Jon Gruden brought all his facial expressions with him to Tampa. Hee hee.
Welcome to MNF 2002, the dumbed-down version where the head-scratching but entertaining quips of Dennis Miller have been replaced by safe, well-worn material of folksy savior John Madden.
Some other observations:
-- You can tell Madden is slipping when he didn't use the telestrator to circle a hole in Torry Holt's pants that clearly showed his cheeky side.
-- Everyone loves Chucky. MNF gave us 30 shots of Gruden in various states of anger/distress in the first half. Mike Martz got six.
-- If sideline reporters were useful they'd be able to tell us why Keyshawn Johnson and Gruden were jawing in the fourth quarter, or if Derrick Brooks ever came out of the tunnel after his clinching interception.
Still, the shot of Johnson and Gruden jawing then hugging a few seconds later after the Bucs sealed the win were the best shots of the night.
-- Marshall Faulk's absence didn't get the treatment it deserved, especially since the two huge interceptions by Brian Kelly and Brooks were passes to his replacements that looked like someone was running the wrong pattern.
-- Best line: "The Bucs defense is scary," said Al Michaels after the game in response to sideline reporter Melissa Stark saying Warren Sapp told her before the game that the St. Louis offense was scary.
-- Viewers could have used an explanation as to why Kurt Warner was doing a Billy Kilmer impersonation with so many wobbly passes. Instead, Michaels and Madden (who babbled about some handshake test he gave Warner) insisted the Ram quarterback was all right.
-- A few seconds later Madden showed why many consider him the best analyst around, explaining that Monte Kiffin likes to drop different people into coverage. In this case, it was Simeon Rice and Warner clearly did not notice, throwing the pick.
-- Best graphic: The Rams have lost 19 straight when trailing entering the fourth quarter. Make it 20.
-- A couple of times, cameras showed Gruden talking into a walkie-talkie (as opposed to his headset) but MNF never explained why. Who was he talking to, Dennis Franz? Was his headset broken?
-- Worst line: "These fans love this offense," Madden bellowed. A few minutes later you could heat boos as a couple of dink passes resulted in a punt.
-- You know MNF is desperate when it hypes next week's Denver-Baltimore game as a collision between former Super Bowl teammates Shannon Sharpe and Ray Lewis. That tight end-middle linebacker match always draws the fans.
-- Ricky Proehl needs to get a tape of Monday's game and save it for his grandkids. Who knew he was the "thing that really makes (the St. Louis offense) go."
-- It wasn't the famous Boom! or Bap! but Faulk's injury, in Madden's words, was a "double whack."
-- If you like that kind of thing, here's the line that epitomized Madden's folksy charm, after the cannons at Raymond James Stadium accidentally were fired early: "They've scored so little here in Tampa that once they get inside the 20 I think they, whether they get excited or start to get excited; I think that's what happened when they got inside the 20."