The underdog Houston Texans came into Arrowhead Stadium brimming with confidence for their contest against the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs. The game began at 2:05 Central time, much to the surprise of the Chiefs, who were still reading their paper and finishing the last bits of their cruller. While Kansas City hastily brushed the crumbs off its shirt, Houston built a stunning 24-point lead. Now the Texans knew they could win. Next, the Chiefs scored six straight touchdowns. The Texans weren’t so sure anymore.
Houston-Kansas City was the rare game in which a team that had a 21-0 head start at the end of the first quarter was clearly doomed by the end of the second. Once Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ latte kicked in, the Chiefs scored touchdowns at will, one touchdown after another, with apparent ease. “Have mercy! Think of the back judge,” pleaded the officials, “whose arms will be sore in the morning from all this touchdown signaling.” Mahomes scored a couple more touchdowns while they were speaking.
By the time Kansas City had racked up 48 points, there was no room left in the stadium for all the touchdowns. Still the Chiefs scored a few more, during commercial breaks, that didn’t even go on the scoreboard. Tight end Travis Kelce scored one by accident while he was walking to the Gatorade table. The surplus touchdowns were tossed in a pile by the parking lot, next to the Houston Texans’ hopes and dreams.
In the third quarter, to give viewers a break from the monotony of Kansas City’s touchdown machine, CBS announcer Jim Nantz read a promo for an upcoming college basketball doubleheader on the network. Auburn vs. Florida and Oregon vs. Washington—it’s “two scoops of hoop!” Nantz said, with gusto. “That’s what they call it,” he added, with less. When analyst Tony Romo snickeringly asked Nantz to read it again, the veteran voice of CBS Sports explained, “That’s a longtime promo line at CBS. It’s made it through the generations.” By then the Chiefs were ready to score another touchdown, so play resumed, and Nantz was saved from having to discuss “two scoops of hoop” further.
Promo copy in-jokes are a long-running tradition at CBS Sports. Pat Summerall was CBS’ lead NFL announcer from the mid ’70s through the early ’90s, and for much of that span, Murder, She Wrote was a linchpin of the CBS Sunday night lineup. So Summerall ended up reading a lot of Murder, She Wrote promos, and after a while, to amuse himself and his booth partner John Madden, he got in the habit of pronouncing the comma. That is, he would pause just a little too long after the word “murder.” It was an inane and pointless tic, which is what made it so funny if you knew to listen for it.
“Two scoops of hoop” is a winking flourish written by a producer who knew that Nantz would be in on the joke. The relationship between the writer and the reader of network promo copy is not always so playful. The above clip shows Ernie Anderson, whose warm, full-bodied tone was the voice of ABC in-house spots for much of the late 20th Century. In the brief but fascinating glimpse into Anderson’s craft, we see him working hard to match a clumsy script with frenetic footage of ABC’s primetime lineup. “Who the fuck wrote this?” he grumbles to sympathetic staffers in the recording studio. A producer remarks that it was someone named “McGuigan,” and everyone in the room murmurs “McGuigan, McGuigan, McGuigan,” exploring how their hatred of this person feels in their mouth.
In fairness, McGuigan’s script did lack a sense of rhythm (though the skillful Anderson managed to rescue it). The patter for that week’s Who’s The Boss? episode isn’t much fun to say. It lacks the pep of “two scoops of hoop”—words that Nantz spoke with relish on Sunday, even if he simultaneously heard them with regret.
For the Minnesota Vikings’ divisional-round matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, NBC’s production team put together a graphical sequence that imagined Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins as the headliner on a cabaret stage drenched in Viking violet. I am still trying to figure out what the metaphor is supposed at here.
My first theory was that Cousins is supposed to be a magician—judging by the carnival-esque text treatment, the dimly lit stage, and the cloud of sparkles that conjures each new data point. But, since the point of the statistical analysis is that Cousins never changes, what sort of magic is he supposed to be working? The magic of being pretty much the same guy day after day? That doesn’t make sense, although it does admittedly sound like a magic act that Kirk Cousins might put together.
After watching the graphic a couple hundred more times, my conclusion is that the spotlight’s late drift away from Cousins—and onto an unflattering depiction of the defensive units that have played alongside Cousins—is the key moment. The idea seems to be that the veteran quarterback’s history of postseason woe only makes sense if you pay attention to all the defensive teammates who let him down. That is, it’s misleading to put a spotlight on Kirk Cousins. NBC made this point by putting a spotlight on Kirk Cousins.
This presentation of Sunday Night Football’s “ADVANCED” statistics is more coherent. The story: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throws short passes to receivers who then run a long way. It’s a nifty observation by the production team, but you might wonder what makes these rather straightforward numbers qualify as “ADVANCED” statistics. Here is the crucial distinction: Any time a set of data points can be visualized in a really computer-y way, preferably with lots of bright green wireframes and electronic beeps, that makes it an “ADVANCED” statistic.
You see, the “ADVANCED” treatment is not about any substantial distinction in the numbers themselves. It’s about awing the audience with the peerless might of NBC’s information-gathering resources. So it would not suffice to simply present the data—the artists must make Jimmy Garoppolo’s passing numbers look like they are characters in the 1982 motion picture Tron, so people will get that “Wow! I’m inside a personal computer!” feeling, and they will know that cutting-edge technology was involved.
Because CBS had two games last weekend, the network’s No. 2 team of Ian Eagle (play-by-play) and ex-Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts (analysis) got a rare postseason showcase. Fouts doesn’t get as much attention as your Tony Romos or your Cris Collinsworths, but he is one of the better color commentators working in the NFL. His breakdowns of the action on the field are serviceable, but what I like most about him is that he carries himself with a puckish irreverence. The choice of Eagle as Fouts’ play-by-play announcer is a smart one: Eagle’s more buttoned-down approach and warm affability make a good complement to his booth partner’s mischief.
A typical Fouts moment came in the second quarter of the Tennessee Titans-Baltimore Ravens game. After Baltimore defensive tackle Brandon Williams stopped Titans running back Derrick Henry behind the line of scrimmage—one of the rare occasions last Saturday that the Ravens were able to thwart Henry’s ferocious advance—Fouts shared a details he had learned about Williams. “He wears a T-shirt that says ‘F.S.U.,’ and it’s not Florida State University,” Fouts said. “It’s ‘foul stuff up,’” Fouts added. “Well—” interjected Eagle at that moment with a nervous laugh, saying anything to derail Fouts before the old QB could think up more ways to say “fuck” and “shit” on TV without actually saying them.
But Fouts knows where the lines of propriety are, as he demonstrated at another point in the broadcast when a touchdown pass to Titans tight end Jonnu Smith came under scrutiny in replay review. Smith had come down in the end zone, clutching the ball, an instant before rolling onto the sideline, and the question was whether he caught the ball in the field of play. Noting that Smith’s buttock had touched the ground within the end zone, Fouts remarked, “That left cheek may have been down. One cheek works for, like, two knees, right?” It was the first time in human history that question had been posed.
Fouts meant to say “two feet,” but he was correct that one buttock is sufficient to establish a receiver’s presence on the field, as CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore confirmed. “Can you split cheeks?” Fouts asked, inscrutably. It was certainly not the first time that particular question has been asked, but maybe the first time it has been asked of Gene Steratore. Maybe not, though! Gene gets around.
Whatever the case, “cheek” is a term that lies within the hazy bounds of live-sports decency. However, during Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers game, Fox sideline reporter Chris Myers may have ventured into the wilderness of impropriety. Myers reported that Seattle defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was in “eye-watering pain” after leaving the field. “I don’t know how you say this on television,” Myers said, and he was correct, as he continued, “Let’s just say he got hit in the family jewels.” That’s how you say it when you’re trading stories with your buddies down at the Passaic OTB, but it’s not, alas, how you say it on television. “Groin” or “groin area” is one oft-employed nomenclature. That said, I hope Myers sticks with his much funnier wording and becomes the “family jewels” guy—everybody needs a hook.
Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck, though momentarily flustered, was not about to let Myers’ colorful phraseology derail the telecast. “Chris Myers, going all Weird Science on us,” Buck commented, deftly laughing off the awkward moment with a choice pop culture reference. Apparently Buck’s standards of on-air conduct have relaxed since that time Randy Moss pretended to pull his pants down.
Block & Tackle is the exclusive home of the QuantumPick Apparatus, the only football prediction system that evaluates every possible permutation of a given NFL week to arrive at the true victor in each contest. Put simply, Block & Tackle picks are guaranteed to be correct. When a game’s outcome varies from this column’s prediction, the game is wrong. (Last week: 2-2. Overall 2019 postseason record: 4-4).
Tennessee Titans vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (Sunday, 3:05 p.m. Eastern, CBS): Germany’s official Tennessee Titans fan club is back with another in their series of cinema-themed pre-game hype posters, and it does not disappoint.
Green Bay Packers vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (Sunday, 6:40 p.m., Fox): There has been a lot of chatter this week about the sign-stealing scheme devised by the Houston Astros, but Green Bay Packers linebacker Preston Smith can electrify himself and emit green zaps at will. I’m pretty sure that’s cheating too.
Block & Tackle is off next week. I’ll be back on Jan. 31 for the big Super Bowl preview! And then there will be a season wrap-up column the week after that. See you soon.
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