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Television: The Don and Howard Show

4 minute read

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Billy Walik caught a Giant punt and broke loose for a 45-yd. runback. ABC-TV Commentator Howard Cosell spoke up in his distinctive nasal twang: “While we were walking up to the booth tonight, my colleague, Dandy Don Meredith, said: ‘Howard, you watch, Walik is going to break a punt tonight.’ ” To which Colleague Meredith cheerfully replied: “Now, Hahrd, Ah didn’t say that. But if you say Ah said it, Ah’ll stick with it.” Pause. “Hahrd, why do you always do that to me?” The gang in the press box burst into laughter.

Meredith’s Texas drawl and bucolic quips sound as if they belong on one of ABC Monday Night Football’s competitors, Mayberry R.F.D. Which makes them a highly effective counterpoint to Cosell’s rasping New York pedantry. As Meredith told TIME’S Mark Goodman last week, “If Cosell says, ‘They have a paucity of plays, I may say something like, ‘If you mean they ain’t got a whole bunch, you’re right.’ ” As a result, the Don and Howard Show has become so entertaining that at times it comes close to upstaging the action on the field below. There have been rumors that Cosell might bow out next season, which would be unfortunate. Still, Meredith has amply demonstrated that he can carry the ball by himself.

Raucous Fans. A former star quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Meredith, 32, does not disguise his partiality to either the Cowboys or quarterbacks. During the Eagle-Giant game Meredith had to take over in the second half, when Cosell, flu-ridden and well fortified against chill, threw up on Dandy Don’s black cowboy boots and had to leave the frigid press box. There was no question that a quarterback was at the mike late in the second half, when quarterbacks Fran Tarkenton of the Giants and Norm Snead of the Eagles punched over for touchdowns. “When you’re in trouble, go to your power runners,” Meredith gleefully cried.

He was at his most partisan when his beloved Cowboys were lurching toward a 38-0 drubbing from the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards jumped off to a quick 17-0 lead, and raucous Cowboy fans began screaming for Quarterback Craig Morton’s scalp. “We want Meredith!” they chanted. Don, who had heard the same fans boo him on more than one occasion, sighed: “Man, you don’t know what trouble is till you’re 17 points behind in the Cotton Bowl.”

Morton soon threw a clothesline pass straight into the arms of a Cardinal defender. “Well,” said Meredith wryly, “maybe he was the only man open.” As the fans continued to call for him, Meredith grinned: “There’s no way you’re going to get me down on that field tonight.” He apologized in the closing moments for “not doing a very good job tonight.” In fact, his running comments saved an otherwise dull runaway ball game.

Say Whatever. On occasion, Meredith does not mind dealing in personalities. Indeed, during his days with the Cowboys he was one of the most acute and outspoken of pro ballplayers. During the Minnesota-Kansas City game he remarked: “If Minnesota’s Bud Grant and my old coach, Tom Landry, were in a personality contest, they’d have trouble coming up with a winner.”

Meredith’s humor is complemented by a quick, nervous intelligence and an encompassing fund of football savvy. A native of Mt. Vernon, Texas, he broke a passel of passing records at Southern Methodist, and was a top draft choice of the Cowboys in 1960. His splendid nine-year professional career (1,170 passes completed for 17,199 yds. and 135 touchdowns) was somewhat tarnished by his inability to lead the talented Cowboys to an N.F.L. championship. He retired at the end of the 1968 season to devote himself to his Dallas brokerage business. Last year his old friend, CBS Announcer Frank Gifford, recommended Meredith to Roone Arledge, president of ABC-TV Sports. “I hired him over our first lunch,” Arledge recalls. “I told him to say whatever he felt like saying. People are tired of announcers who treat football like a religion, and Meredith is just the touch we needed.”

Meredith is enjoying himself immensely. “Could I ask for anything better? I’m not trying to be a stand-up comic, but I don’t want to report a game as a catastrophic event either.” He concedes that the view from the press box has made him miss football more than ever this year. “It’s funny,” he muses, “but I still get nervous and can’t eat before a game. But as long as I feel that way, I think I can do a good job.”

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