Tag Archives: television

“Stump the Football Stars”

Sportscaster Dick Enberg was in the news recently as the winner of baseball’s Ford Frick Award. He’s also done some fine football work, of course, calling eight Super Bowls and serving as the radio voice of the Los Angeles Rams. (He’s already, in fact, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)

Since we’re closing in on Christmas, I thought I’d post these clips from his syndicated game show, Sports Challenge. This episode pitted three Kansas City Chiefs (quarterback Len Dawson, linebacker Willie Lanier and wide receiver Otis Taylor) against a trio of Miami Dolphins (fullback Larry Csonka, halfback Jim Kiick and wide receiver Paul Warfield) — the year after the teams played their classic Christmas Day playoff game, won by the Dolphins in double overtime, 27-24.

Four of these six guys are now in Canton (Dawson, Lanier, Csonka, Warfield), and another (Taylor) probably belongs there. It’s always surprised me that ESPN hasn’t tried to revive Sports Challenge, just for fun. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing pro athletes stumped by relatively easy questions about their game’s history? Check this out:

Nobody knew the answer – not even Dawson, who at the time of the alleged Greatest Game Ever Played was a third-string quarterback for the Steelers. (The others had yet to play pro ball.) That’s almost — almost — like players not knowing that Adam Vinatieri won Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII for the Patriots. (You know what would have been a great follow-up question, by the way? “For 10 points, what is the correct spelling of Myhra?”)

As I said, though, many of the questions on Sports Challenge weren’t very, well, challenging. Like this one, also about the NFL:

Come on! Do we have to dumb things down that much?

I’ll finish with this clip from earlier in the show. Enberg talks about Garo Yepremian ending the Chiefs-Dolphins overtime thriller with a field goal and asks Csonka, “Where were you at that time?” You’ll love the response:

The players weren’t always well-versed in their game’s history, but at least some of them had a sense of humor.

Dec. 2, 1956: Frank Gifford on “What’s My Line?”

Before 1960, few running backs had a season as good as Frank Gifford’s 1956. His 819 rushing yards were fifth-best in the NFL. His 603 receiving yards tied for seventh-best. His 1,422 yards from scrimmage were a league record for a back. He also threw two touchdown passes and, in his spare time, booted a field goal and eight extra points.

Not to go off on a tangent here, but I’ve always thought Gifford was a bit underrated. That might sound funny, him being in the Hall of Fame and all, but he wasn’t inducted until 13 years after he retired, and he was rebuffed five times as a finalist before the selection committee waved him through.

Frank Gifford was no New York Creation. Frank Gifford was a great, versatile football player — in the days when more of a premium was placed on such things. Aside from the aforementioned skills, he was a fine defensive back and played both ways early in his career. After the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik sidelined him for more than a year in 1960, Frank reinvented himself as a (quite capable) wide receiver.

Did he have matinee-idol looks? Sure. But he was no pretty boy. Here he is playing without a facemask at Southern Cal:

Gifford without facemask

OK, I’m done with my spiel. Anyway, late in that 1956 season, with Gifford en route to the MVP award and the Giants headed to their first championship since 1938, he appeared on the CBS game show “What’s My Line?” It was Sunday, Dec. 2, just a few hours after Giants had beaten the Redskins 28-14 at Yankee Stadium in a game that saw Frank account for all four New York touchdowns — two running, one receiving and one passing. You don’t see performances like that any more. In fact, nobody’s had a performance like that since — 58 years and counting.

What’s truly astounding, looking at this clip again, is that Gifford wasn’t instantly identified. After all, he’d already been to three Pro Bowls and was all-pro the season before. It just shows how much less visible the game was then, and how much less recognizable the players were. Frank was far better known for his work on Monday Night Football than he ever was as a footballer.

To try to throw off the panel a little, Gifford signs in as “F. Newton Gifford” from Bakersfield, Calif., his hometown. Bennett Cerf knows him on sight, but the others must not be very big football fans. My favorite line is when Arlene Francis says, “Well, it’s not Red Grange.”

No, it wasn’t Red Grange. (The Galloping Ghost was 53 at the time.) It was Frank Gifford, future husband of Kathie Lee.

Arlene was a hoot, wasn’t she? When she asked Frank, “Do you ever touch people that may come to you for services?” you just know she was hoping he was a masseur.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Seven weeks before the Sudden Death Game

The Cowboys played the Jaguars in London today, but the NFL wasn’t always this big.

Consider: On this day in 1958, the Colts lost to the Giants at Yankee Stadium, 24-21 – a preview of their overtime thriller later that year in the title game. Afterward, their Hall of Fame receiver, Raymond Berry, went to CBS’s studios in New York and had a panel of celebrities try to guess his occupation on the game show What’s My Line?

Except for a pair of glasses — which were no disguise (he needed them) — Berry did nothing to hide his identity. He even signed in, with wonderful penmanship, as “Raymond Berry” — instead of, say, R. Emmett Berry or R. E. Berry, which would have been trickier.

But again, this was 1958. So even though Berry had led the NFL in receiving yards the year before — and would lead it in receptions and receiving touchdowns in that ’58 season — he wasn’t immediately recognized. The panelists were very observant, though, noticed his athletic physique and ramrod-straight posture, and quickly figured him for a jock.

The exchange between Bennett Cerf, the publisher/humorist, and Berry was just priceless:

Cerf: You’re playing at the present time on some professional outfit. Is that correct?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf: Is it a football team?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf: Is it a football team in the National Football League?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf:: Did you play today in that fantastically exciting game up at the Yankee Stadium?

Berry: Yes, I did.

Cerf: Well, then, you’re a football player on either the Colts or the Giants. . . . Uh, Berry, . . . Raymond Berry. . . . You’re the end who almost caught a pass in the last quarter that would have beaten the Giants. You’re an end for the Baltimore Colts.

Berry: That’s right, sir.

Here’s the whole clip:

Did you notice, by the way, how Cerf pronounced Johnny Unitas’ last name as “YOU-knee-toss”? (Unitas had missed the game with broken ribs, and backup George Shaw had thrown three TD passes, including a 23-yarder to Berry.) Yes, it was a different world in 1958 — before London games and the NFL Network. But you have to remember: In those days, the Colts-Giants game would have been blacked out in New York. The only way Cerf or anybody on the panel could have seen it is if they had a ticket — unless, that is, they wanted to drive to Connecticut, outside the Blackout Zone, and rent a hotel room.

Anyway, on Dec. 28, Raymond Berry returned to New York and caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown as the Colts defeated the Giants, 23-17, in OT. Had he gone on “What’s My Line?” that night, Cerf probably wouldn’t have said to him, “You’re playing at the present time on some professional outfit. Is that correct?”

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