Monday, December 06, 2010

Don Meredith R.I.P.

For anyone who grew up watching football in the late 1960s and the 1970s, Don Meredith was a key figure - first as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, but later (and more importantly) as one of the first announcers on ABC's Monday Night Football broadcasts.

He was a very good but not great quarterback, and he certainly was not a great announcer. But he was a great personality. The first Monday night play-by-play man, Keith Jackson, once famously referred to it as "corn pone and bullshit," and even though Jackson (truly a great, great play-by-play man) did not intend the comment as a compliment, he was pretty much spot on. When Meredith and Howard Cosell almost immediately developed a chemistry that has rarely been seen in the booth (the dumb country boy and the city intellectual), it was apparent that Jackson was the odd man out. That was a good thing for Jackson, who went back to college football and became the greatest announcer ever of the college gridiron. ABC added another jock to the mix, USC and New York legend Frank Gifford, and for a couple of years the trio could do nothing wrong. It was the one of the golden eras of the NFL, and the Monday night ratings went through the roof, no matter who was playing.

Maybe it was inevitable, but after a couple of years it appeared that success went to Meredith's head. He moved over to NBC, where in addition to being paired on NFL broadcasts with Curt Gowdy (who by that time was far past his prime, and the team never really clicked) he was allowed to test out his limited acting chops, most notably in a recurring role on Police Story. What became obvious when Meredith was part of a crew that was actually interested in calling a game was that the game was slowly passing him by, and that he was never that good with the analysis or the details in the first place.

He went back to ABC for another 7 years on the MNF crew, and after that, he pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. But he always seemed like a nice guy, and he was a genuinely funny guy. And after all, MNF did revolutionize the sport - or at least the television coverage of it.


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