Tuesday, February 21, 2012
It's Boxing Day, Charlie Brown
Redskins vs. Saints at the Superdome, December 26, 1982
In the waning days of the misbegotten nine-game NFL schedule of 1982, the woeful Saints still had some kind of shot at the playoffs when this game – from a belated Week Eight – was played. But the Redskins were the best team in the league, the eventual Super Bowl champs, and the Saints were saddled with Guido Merkens at quarterback, filling in for the injured Ken Stabler. I’m not sure what exactly was wrong with the Snake, but he had been 10 for 29 with 88 yards and five interceptions in the previous two games combined, so it probably wasn’t a bad idea to get him out of there.
The Saints had tried to make a wide receiver out of Merkens in 1981 before shifting him back to QB in 1982. This would be his only start under center for the Saints, and he played about as well as you'd expect a guy named Guido Merkens to play, going 9 for 24. His lead running back on the day was Jimmy Rogers, and I had to listen closely to the announcers to make sure they weren’t saying “George Rogers,” the Heisman Trophy winner who had been the Saints No. 1 draft choice in 1981, and a big star that season. I guess he was hurt, although the announcers weren’t any more forthcoming about that injury than they were about Stabler’s.
Those announcers were Tom Brookshier and Wayne Walker. Brookshier had been half of CBS’ lead NFL team for years, alongside Pat Summerall. But when John Madden moved into broadcasting, it became clear that he was a star in the making, and CBS realized he needed to be on their A team. They considered teaming him with Vin Scully, but decided the laconic Summerall would mesh well with the hyper Madden. They were right.
Summerall and Brookshier, both ex-players, made a terrific team on their own, and it’s kind of a shame Brookshier had to be demoted. As a consolation, CBS moved Brookshier into play-by-play, which was his role for this game. And it pains me to say he was not very good, for a simple reason: He couldn’t shut up. He was not exceptionally long-winded as a color man, so apparently he thought it was the job of the lead announcer to talk constantly: “Guido Merkens, out to the side, now he’s gonna do a little dance, he’s a very good athlete, now he’s gonna run for the first, or is he?” That’s how he called a third-down scramble by Merkens. Enough already.
Wayne Walker, for his part, sounded like an insurance executive. He was a longtime linebacker for the Lions and did the 49ers games on the radio for years. I can't say he seemed very enthusiastic about this game.
There was a horrendously unjust call in this game, when Joe Theismann threw a pass down the sideline for Charlie Brown, who was out of bounds when the ball came down. But it was tipped by Saints DB Johnnie Poe, and Brown, whose feet were out of bounds when he first touched the ball, was able to get back in before he made the catch and ran it in for a touchdown.
The rule is that a receiver can come back in bounds and make a catch if he’s not the first person to touch the ball, which is technically what happened here, but it just points up that the rule needed to be tightened. Someone downing a punt near the goal line needs to establish himself in the field of play before he can down the ball at the one; that would be a nice precedent to use for this type of play. I’ve never seen another catch where you had to watch the replay to make sure the receiver got his feet back in bounds before he had full possession of the ball.
The Redskins won, 27-10, in a game that didn’t feel nearly that close. Guido Merkens would start one more game at quarterback in his career, as a scab for the Eagles in week three of the 1987 season. He got plastered by the Bears, 35-3.