One Hand Clapping That's the sound of the ovation you'll get if you can solve the eternal mysteries of TV sports

July 04, 1999

Welcome to Television's Unsolved Mysteries. Tonight's subject:
television's unsolved mysteries. The MacArthur Foundation will
give a genius grant to the first person who can resolve the
following riddles, imponderables, conundrums and math problems.
Pencils ready?

1. Explain the long-standing television sign-off, "For John
Madden, I'm Pat Summerall." Isn't he Pat Summerall for
everybody? Or will he one day confess, "For John Madden, I'm Pat
Summerall. For my granddaughter, Brittany, I'm Grampa Poopie.
And for Mrs. Summerall, every other Thursday night, I'm Little
Bo Peep."

2. Explicate the Principle of Verticality. This physical law of
the NBA, evidently coined by Don King, seems to state that an
offensive player who jumps straight into the air won't be called
for a foul if he collides with a defender. If so, why doesn't
Doug Collins simply say that? Is it because he would be
violating TV's Postulate of Prolixity, which posits that the
simplest acts should be made to sound ludicrously complex, thus
rendering expert analysis indispensable? True or false bonus
brainteaser: Old analysts never die, they just lose verticality.

3. What could possibly have served as the tiebreaker when ESPN,
compiling a list of the 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century,
decided that Secretariat (No. 35) was better than Mickey Mantle
(No. 37)? Triple Crowns won? Performance at stud? Discuss.

4. Why do producers persist in papering over my screen with
"supers," when they acknowledge the word is short for
"superimpositions," which is precisely what they have become?
Most baseball games can no longer be seen for the pitch count,
pitch speed, bat speed, the chart showing which bases are
occupied, score ticker, stock ticker, AFLAC Trivia Question,
tornado warning, winning lotto numbers and station logo graphics
that have, alas, given literal meaning to the phrase "blanket
coverage." Why, pray tell, have TV executives turned my set into
a 54-inch, 400-channel, high-definition, cherry-consoled,
picture-in-picture-equipped radio?

5. Why don't network suits follow the lead of newspaper editors
by periodically rotating the beats of their correspondents? At
NBC, Bill Walton might benefit from announcing golf ("That's a
terr-ible putt: Hale Irwin is a sad human being!"), while Bud
Collins could slide over to NBA telecasts ("Latrell Sprewell,
Commodore of the Cornrow, Archduke of Asphyxiation: Why the long
face?").

6. What is meant by Revelation 9:32, which warns: "When hairless
Goliaths bestride the Earth, whoa be unto thee who gather at
their squared circle, to worship graven images"? Is this a
reference, as biblical scholars now fear, to the apocalyptic
popularity of professional wrestling?

7. If a size-12 shoe, traveling 35 miles an hour toward a TV
that is 17 feet from the couch, leaves a hand one tenth of a
second after ESPN Wimbledon analyst Luke Jensen says, "We're
gonna have some fun here at the big W," how soon is that TV
silenced?

8. Is it possible that on Sunday, at 2:04 a.m., Fox Sports Net
rebroadcast something called the Victor Awards, which included
professional athletes such as Penny Hardaway giving
two-foot-tall gold trophies to other professional athletes, such
as Karl Malone, all in the name of charity? ("The Victor Awards:
To the spoiled belong the Victors!") Moreover, is it
possible--remotely possible--that the following sentence was
uttered that night: "Coming up, the Golfing Legend of the
Century, and the comedy of Carrot Top!"? Finally, and this is
the salient point, is it possible I was watching it?

Viewers with any information on any of the above are asked to
call 1-800-GET-LIFE.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)