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Madden: There's always a place for humor

Saturday, January 11, 2003

For all its popularity, pro football has many laughable things about it. I used to think the most laughable was the oft-used comparison to war. You know, "the 60-minute war." "So and so was a warrior out there today." Give me a break. Vietnam was a war. Football is a game.

Now, I've drawn a new conclusion: The most laughable thing about football is, ironically, the fact that its administrators, its coaches, its players and many of its fans totally lack a sense of humor.

Example No. 1: This week in Nashville, a radio station's morning show tried to promote a "Rush Tommy Maddox to the Hospital" contest. Teams of two -- one dressed as a doctor, the other as a Steeler, presumably Maddox -- were to race gurneys from the stadium to the hospital, with the "doctor" pushing and "Maddox" riding. The winner would get tickets to the Steelers-Tennessee playoff game today.

Outrage over this stunt flowed freely in Pittsburgh. A local radio station gave out the Nashville station's phone number, encouraging irate calls. The controversy gave the Nashville morning show hosts a chance to publish a facetious apology and reap more publicity -- which, I'm pretty sure, was the goal in the first place.

I know, I know ... how dare these heathens make fun of Maddox's near-disaster Nov. 17 in Nashville? What if Maddox had never played again? What if he had been paralyzed? What if he had never been able to (sob) hug his wife again? Hold his children again?

Thing is, Maddox isn't paralyzed. It was touch-and-go for a very brief time, but it turns out Maddox had the equivalent of a glorified stinger. Yet Pittsburgh acts like he arose again on the third day.

I'm glad Maddox is OK. He's a good quarterback, and he seems to be a good man. But we've talked longer about Maddox's "miracle" than we did about Mario Lemieux beating cancer.

The idea of a "Rush Tommy Maddox to the Hospital" contest was absolutely hilarious. Sadly, it was canceled. The stuffed shirts won. Instead, a pair of tickets was auctioned off, with the money given to a charity of Maddox's choice. How boring ... uh, I mean, touching.

On with the race, I say. No one was making light of Maddox's injury or hoping he got hurt again. A gurney race would be a hoot.

Worst part is, I was headed to Nashville with a friend to win the darn thing. I'd have been riding, not pushing. No sense courting a legitimate disaster.

If Titans quarterback Steve McNair had experienced a similar scare, I bet WDVE would have staged a similar contest between repeated playings of "Free Bird." And you all would have laughed.

Like Dan Jenkins once wrote, "There shouldn't be a problem so big that laughter can't cut it down to size." Amen. Gentlemen, start your gurneys.

Example No. 2: Joey Porter is whipping himself into a frenzy because, he says, the Tennessee strength coach tried to scald him with hot coffee when a tackle near the Titans' sideline put Porter in close proximity with Coach Starbucks.

Video of this incident has been shown over and over on local and national television. Talking heads have analyzed it as if Zapruder filmed it. I've seen the tape. I suspect a second drinker may have been involved, perhaps with something stronger. Espresso, maybe. Dear Lord, has everyone gone nuts?

The act definitely looks intentional. But Porter is not the Wicked Witch of the West. He did not melt. Or get hurt. Or even seem to get that annoyed. But now, two months later, Porter is using this incident to get psyched for today. I'd have thought chasing a Super Bowl might be motivation enough.

Football has such a grade-school mentality. Don't stand on my side of the playground. Don't spill your milk on me at lunch time. I know a lot of these guys had trouble in college, but I thought they all made it out of fourth grade. Even Terry Bradshaw did. I think he used to lend the teacher his car.

A gurney race is funny. It's juvenile, but intentionally so. Making a big deal out of a spilled cup of coffee -- or hot chicken broth, as the Titans claim -- is silly.

The NFL often is called the "No Fun League." It's an apt description. Like Paul Tagliabue cares, right? He runs the most successful, profitable sports league in the history of the world.

Part of the NFL's success revolves around taking a sport and blowing it up into larger-than-life drama. Take the weeklong soap opera that came out of the officiating anarchy that ended the New York Giants-San Francisco playoff game. OK, so a bad call got made. That's life. Mistakes happen. Did the NFL have to issue a mea culpa every day this week? Did Tagliabue have to constantly lament the situation?

Yes, and yes. That's what's known as maximizing exposure.

That's why the Steelers get to play on five days' rest while the New York Jets are playing on seven. A New York team playing on Sunday equals big television ratings. A New York team playing in the Super Bowl means a revenue stream that would be huge even by NFL standards.

It's enough to make you want to viciously attack Tagliabue with a cup of coffee.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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